I think Glen Greenwald does some of the best writing on American politics online – yesterday he took Joe Biden to task for referring to Barack Obama as ‘our future Commander in Chief,’ a phrase with strong authoritarian overtones considering that Obama refuses to even discuss the US policy of executive-led torture and voted to authorize wiretapping.
“Commander in Chief” does not mean “our chief who commands us” – it has a legal context, which Greenwald points out, is ‘Commander in Chief of the Armed forces of the US.’ All it means is that people in the armed forces have to listen to him when he says ‘jump.’
The surging use of the phrase has more to do with rhetoric than the law. It sounds so good in the mouth, marshals so much authority, even if it means almost nothing. Ditto for the effort to label US detainees “enemy combatants,” a term that John Yoo & Co. just sort of pulled out of thin air to run interference for torturing people to death. Both provide words for the President to parrot on the teevee while lawyers work overtime in the boring annals of our legal system, trying to authorize unacceptable bullshit. They effectively stave off real criticism of the legal implications of the President’s actions while the folks in the executive branch do the dirty work of undermining democracy.