President Bush on Art. II, Sec. 2

I remember being quite amused at the following New York Times quote, by our President and Commander-in-Chief. It was more than a month ago (11/8), but I don’t recall it eliciting much comment either in the media or the blogosphere. Maybe it’s just me…

“[A]ppearing at George Washington’s mansion in Mount Vernon, Va., with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France[, Mr. Bush said,] ‘You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time.”’

OK. Um, but see U.S. Const., art. II sec. 2.

To be fair, full context of both:

”My message was that we believe strongly in elections, and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform,” Mr. Bush said later, appearing at George Washington’s mansion in Mount Vernon, Va., with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. ”You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time.”


The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States….

But I was still amused.

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6 Responses

  1. Interesting, though I’d put that second to Bush’s 2005 privatization posturing, where he seemed to entertain the possibility that the government could possibly default in the future on Social Security payments. As Josh Marshall (and others, perhaps) pointed out, he was violating Amendment XIV, Sec. 4:

    “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

    Constitutional scholar I am not, so I am curious whether this provision has ever been applied.

  2. bacchys says:

    While our Commander-in-Chief is never eloquent, I took his comments to mean one cannot be the uniformed head of the military and be President. The President has authority over the military, but he’s not in the military. Civilian control of the military is one of the cornerstones of a republic.

    As for Social Security, the government wouldn’t have to default on the special issue bonds held by the SS Trust Fund to never pay them. They could just sit on them. Mr. Marshall is in error: musing don’t amount to a violation. Action might, but not musings. Bush’s musings may be musings about violating the Constitution. They aren’t a violation in and of themselves.

  3. Jeremy– You missed the link (here’s the link to the transcript). I thought I’d remind readers-of-the-future that President Bush was referring to President Musharraf of Pakistan, and not to President Sarkozy of France.

    bacchys– fair point. I only mention the “validity of the public debt” because that was brought up in the context of a major domestic public policy issue. This quote is an offhand remark to another country. Giving our President the extreme benefit of the doubt, he could have been referring to the Constitution of Pakistan (Article 243, (1a) of which states, “Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces shall vest in the President.”) or even Article II of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic (which, as best as I can tell as a constitutional non-scholar, does not.)

    Now, it would have been a little more respectful of our Constitution had the President remarked, “Our constitution calls for the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary (as does Article 175 of Pakistani Constitution…)” Whether he smirked or not after the first clause would be up to him.

  4. No, it wasn’t just you. I was amused as well, and also noticed a lack of commentary. In my comments at the time, I criticized Bush’s “you need to take off your uniform” remark, being irritated at his flight-suit posturing in light of the questions about completing his own military service.

  5. Adam says:

    “Bush’s musings may be musings about violating the Constitution. They aren’t a violation in and of themselves.”

    Actually, he didn’t even “muse about violating the Constitution.” He merely made the straightforward point that there was no cash reserve backing up the social security trust: the cash is long gone, replaced with non-marketable Social Security Trust Fund bonds, that will have to be repaid by the federal government with fresh infusions of cash. In other words, the government shifted funds from one pocket to the other, leaving the former with IOUs. Simply put, future benefits will have to be paid by fresh infusions of cash, either through increased government revenues, decreased government spending, or further rounds of government borrowing. Or, as noted above, the federal government could simply decline to demand repayment (to itself). There would be no legal violation there; after all, as the Supreme Court held in 1960 that persons who have contributed to the Social Security program have no “right” to subsequent payment of benefits.

    Josh Marshall and others hell-bent on defeating the President’s social security proposals (which I opposed then and oppose now) twisted his words into a quite different point, and a lot of President Bush’s opponents reflexively took the bait.

  6. AJ in Denver says:

    And don’t forget, when asked if any of the President’s family was serving in the military, Tony Snow’s answer as spokesman for the President was: Mr. Bush himself serves (in the military) as commander-in-chief.

    Or in other words, no.