How many times have you heard President Bush say that his most important job or his first responsibility is to protect the American people. Another variant is when Bush says it is his "most solemn duty to protect the American people." It sounds good and it certainly is important but it is NOT his first priority and is NOT his most solemn duty.
When Bush was sworn into office his duty, his solemn duty, was told to him by the Chief Justice of the United States and he repeated it as he took the oath -
"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's right - execute the Office of the President and "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution." This oath is contained in Article II, section 1. (There is a more general requirement in Article VI for all other civilian and military personnel to take an "oath or affirmation to support the Constitution.")
In order to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution one must know what exactly the purposes, goals and objectives of the Constitution are. They are succinctly set forth in the Preamble -
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The first two purposes of the Constitution are to "form a more perfect union" and "establish justice." Next, the Constitution seeks to "insure domestic tranquility" and "provide for the common defense." Lastly, the Constitution was created to "promote the general welfare" and "secure the blessings of liberty" for ourselves and future generations.
Yes, national defense is part of it but only within the context of establishing justice and ensuring the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our children. If our founders had thought personal security was the paramount concern there never would have been a revolution and the United States would never have been born. But that is not how they thought. In fact they believed that personal safety was secondary to liberty. Perhaps it was said best by Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775 who, when addressing the Virginia House of Burgesses, concluded by saying "give me liberty or give me death."
The sentiment embodied in those words, which were a call to war against Britain, is the same sentiment that lead the Founders twelve years later to require the President and all other Federal officials to swear an oath to the Constitution. It was the recognition that liberty - freedom from the tyranny of government - is more important than life itself and is worth fighting for. The Founders recognized that only by strict adherence to the principles embodied in the Constitution, maintenance of the checks and balances in the government created by the Constitution, and vigilant oversight to ensure that the government did not breach the personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution would liberty be preserved and tyranny kept at bay.
There is profound significance in the fact that the President is sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution rather than the State, its geographic territory, or its inhabitants. Of course the physical security of our nation and its people is important and must be safeguarded, but the people and the country cannot be protected at the expense of protecting the principles of the Constitution itself.
So when you hear Bush or his apologists say that you will have no freedoms if you are dead, remember that our forefathers thought there were worse things than death. They created a Constitution designed first and foremost to protect our liberty - to protect us from tyranny. To ensure that the President and all other persons entrusted with the solemn privelage of exercising the powers of the government, each of those persons must take an oath to preserve, protect and defend that Constitution.
That is the President's most solemn duty - and it is a duty he has payed scant regard to during his term of office. He has imprisoned people without the most basic rights afforded in the Constitution. He has engaged in unlawful searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution. And he has pushed through the Congress a law that abolishes the Writ of Habeas Corpus in direct contradiction to the clear language of the Constitution.
President Bush would do well to reread his Oath of Office and read the Constitution.