Presidential candidates should read the job description

BURNET, Texas (Nov. 5) – One of the first things you do when you’re applying for a job is to read the job description to find out the qualifications, duties and responsibilities of the office. After listening to years of presidential campaign speeches and debates, it seems to me that most candidates for the office simply haven’t read the job description for President of the United States. The Founding Fathers wrote it some 200 years ago, and despite some wear and tear, it is still perhaps one of the finest job descriptions ever written for the leader of a free republic.

The presidential job description was drafted, refined and honed during the months of the Constitutional Convention held in 1787. The duties of the President of the United States are outlined in Article II. The placement is deliberate. The first article of the Constitution establishes the Congress, the legislative branch, because the Founders believed the legislative was the most important function of government. As if to emphasize that point, the first mention of the President of the United States in the Constitution is in Article I, Section 7. This section says he must sign a bill passed by Congress before it becomes law. If he does not sign it, or he vetoes it, it can only become law if two-thirds of each House vote to approve it.

So what does the presidential job description say? First, there are three simple qualifications: you must be a natural-born citizen, 35 years old, and a United States resident for 14 years. I am all three. The “selection committee” for the job is technically the Electoral College, composed of people chosen by the states.” But in reality, it is the people of the United States who hire the president. The length of service is four years.

The first thing a new president does is to take an oath. It is a plain and simple oath, similar to the one I took many years ago when I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. The oath states: “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.” But in those few words lie some very powerful sentiments.

Article II, Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution lists the specific duties of the president. One of the duties most discussed, and most abused, is his role as “commander-in-chief” of the Army and Navy, and of the state militia “when called into the service of the United States.” That last phrase is usually omitted when anyone speaks of the “commander-in-chief” but it is important. The president only commands the state militia, in modern terms that means the National Guard, under certain circumstances. Nor does this title make the president “commander-in-chief” of the United States, or any of the states, or the people. And it does not give him the authority to declare or wage war.

Alexander Hamilton, even though an advocate of a strong chief executive, made it clear in Federalist No. 69 that the title of commander-in-chief amounted to “nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces” and not to declaring war or raising and recruiting military forces. Such powers were specifically vested in Congress, because the Founders had direct experience of the tyranny that results when the executive, in their case the King of England, can raise and recruit armies and navies, and take the country to war without question.

If you will pardon a civics lesson, here’s a list of the other duties in the job description for President of the United States:

  • Nominate and appoint ambassadors, again with the approval of the Senate;
  • Appoint other public Ministers and consuls, subject to Senate approval;
  • Appoint judges of the Supreme Court, and inferior federal courts, with Senate approval;
  • Appoint all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not otherwise provided for in the Constitution or by law;
  • Fill vacancies during Senate recesses, but only until the Senate reconvenes;
  • Give to the Congress “information of the State of the Union,” and recommend legislation;
  • Convene both House and Senate on “extraordinary Occasions,” or adjourn either or both of them if they can’t agree on adjournment;
  • Receive Ambassadors and other public ministers;
  • “Take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” and;
  • Commission all the officers of the United States, that is, military officers.

That’s a very short list. Most of the duties simply have to do with appointing people to office. There is nothing in there about taxes, health care, jobs, education or the myriad of other things presidential candidates make promises about. The key point, however, is that all the power given to the president, all his duties, especially the duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” must be understood in the context of the oath of office. As president, I fully intend to take very, very good care that the laws are faithfully executed.

By that I mean that if a law is not faithful to the original intent of the Constitution — if it in fact does harm to the Constitution — I will not enforce it, nor let anyone in the executive department enforce it. If the Congress sends me a proposed law that does not have a direct basis in any of the specified and enumerated powers granted to the federal government under the Constitution, I will veto it. And even if they pass it over my veto, I will not enforce it.

Anyone I nominate to the Supreme Court or to any federal court will have a clear understanding of the concept of original intent. They will believe, as I do, that the Constitution established a government with specific, enumerated and limited power. Anyone I select for a federal office will be willing to conduct their duties with the understanding, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, that “The equal rights of man and the happiness of every individual are the only legitimate objects of government.” In short, I will conduct the office of President of the United States by heeding the advice of the Founding Fathers, who believed that when it came to power, you should not rely on “confidence in man,” but rather, bind him from mischief ” by the chains of the Constitution.”

Wrights 2012 press release