Say It Again, George.
If you take a look at a transcript of a recent presidential news conference, you will notice Bush uses the word "protect" quite freely:
"...the tools they need to protect the American people...."
"...protects our borders..."
"...we must protect America‘s secrets...."
"...What is needed in order to protect the American people is..."
"...and at the same time protect the United States of America...."
"...it is a necessary part of my job to protect you..."
"... This is a part of our effort to protect the American people...."
"American people expect us to protect them and protect their civil liberties."
And if you review the oath Bush took -- both at his first and second inaugurations-- you will notice he utters the word "protect" there as well:
"I do solemnly swear 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."
Now, you can certainly make the argument that all of the other "protects" above (from the news conference) are efforts to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. But the thing is... he never actually says that. He never says "my job is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution". But that's the oath he took, after all. He didn't take an oath to protect the American People, or our secrets, or our borders, even though that's what he's constantly reminding us he's doing.
What, the Constitution is suddenly some darkly menacing uncle that nobody dares mention in polite company anymore?
Why doesn't he just say it? "I'm here to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution".
My own view is that he never actually repeats his oath, never actually refers directly to the oath he took to protect the Constitution, because that would complicate things for him way too much.
For example, thank gawd he is still more or less obligated to come up with some sort of response when somebody asks him, "Why are you conducting these warrantless searches on American citizens?" Given that he is still forced to respond, which of the following responses is better, do you think, from his point of view? "I am obligated to protect the American people." Or: "I am obligated to protect the Constitution."
The first response makes your average American go, "Oh, hmm, okay."
The second response makes you go, "Um, okay, but how does conducting warrantless searches protect the Constitution? Doesn't it more likely weaken it?"
In other words, the first response is an attempt to end debate. The second response invites both more questions and more debate.
He keeps reminding us of what he is "obligated to do", but he never reminds us of what he swore to us he would do.
Okay, so maybe it's a small point. But maybe it isn't.
The brutal truth is that protecting you -- yes, you, dear reader -- doesn't particularly matter to the preservation of American constitutional government. It isn't the ability to protect you that distinguishes American constitutional government from every thugocracy on the planet. Mugabe has cops on the street watching for pick-pockets. Putin's police departments enforce speed limits. Russian special forces, on occasion, storm opera houses full of terrorized hostages (with mixed results). And, of course, Castro protects his people from HIV by putting those who've been infected with it in concentration camps.
Protecting you -- protecting the American people -- is nothing grander than a reptilian-brain function of government. It's no different than the contract between the weaker animals in a herd and the most powerful animal in that herd. If all you want is to be protected from danger, you could do worse than tracking down the King of the Jungle and signing on with him.
No, it's the Constitution that distinguishes American constitutional government from thugocracies. (Yes, yes, there will be some who say America has become a thugocracy, but I don't believe it. There are problems, yes, but we are not Mugabe. Saying we are gets us nowhere beyond melodrama.)
The American People don't exist, as an entity, to be protected by their government; they exist to protect their Constitution, the document that defines how they will govern themselves. We are its custodians, not its wards.
When Bush tells us he is obligated to protect the American People, but never explicitly reminds us of the oath he actually took -- to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution -- he's reducing us to a herd of frightened animals -- a herd he and his cronies get to rule. Frightened animals aren't going to further pester the King of the Jungle when he answers all our questions with "I am protecting you" (so long as the claim still seems credible).
If, however, he responds by saying, "I'm using warrantless searches to protect the Constitution"... well, that invites questions from us. It invites us to debate whether his actions really do protect the Constitution. It invites us to rise above the level of his trembling underlings.
He ought to say it. He ought to say explicitly that he's doing these things to protect the Constitution. He ought to say it in response to all of our questions about warrantless searches, detentions without trials, extraordinary renditions, and all the rest of it. That would be the responsible thing to do. That would be the thing to do if he was actually interested in reminding himself of his oath, and in living up to it.
If he won't say it, we ought to insist that he say it. If he still won't say it, we need to get rid of him.
And if you think I'm just being picky, you need to think about it some more.