I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
That is the oath that Barack Obama will swear next week. It is the oath taken by every President from George Washington on. The history behind the oath is enlightening, especially in light of the legacy tour of the Bush/Cheney Administration. The framers were very careful in their wording and there were at least three revisions of the oath. The historical record includes debates over two particular phrases. Both of them are relevant today as we listen to the GOP propaganda on the Bush/Cheney legacy. Maybe the following will make sense to those “Federalist” nabobs who want to be strict Constructionalists… probably not:
The first debate on the oath centered on the use of the word “judgment” or “ability” in the phrase:
“…and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
The framers ultimately settled on holding a President to the best of his ability instead of his best judgment. Why did they consider this important? Take a look at the actions of Bush/Cheney. Once they were caught violating the Constitutional Rights of American citizens and of Treaties (after denying that they had violated any laws or treaties), they justified their crimes by saying that “in their judgment” the threats faced by the Country after 9/11 warranted unprecedented action. The framers recognized that there was a danger that a President would use the excuse of “judgment” to nullify Constitutional Rights when there was a claimed threat [real or fabricated] to national security. So they made it clear that the President is to defend the CONSTITUTION under any circumstances to the best of his ability even when they disagree with such action.
The second debate centered on the job of the President as defined by the oath – he is to “defend the Constitution of the United States.” The framers knew that without the Constitution there is no Country to defend and wanted to make clear that the defense of the Constitution takes precedence over any presidential duty.
When you hear some GOP apologist justifying violating the rights of Americans by illegally spying on them, or by abrogating our own laws and International Treaties by torturing prisoners, or defying Congressional subpoenas by asserting that the Vice-President is not part of the Executive Branch of Government [the list goes on and on], remind them that they should be patriots first and partisan hacks second.