It's oath-inducing enough when officeholders break their oaths of office. But there can be no greater insolence than an officeholder who denies knowledge of what his oath was.
The President...shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.
I do solemnly swear that I will...to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
--Richard Nixon, 1968 and 1972
Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.
--Richard Nixon, 1977
Nixon's long, painful decent from the Oval Office was marked by the constant assertions of The President's Men that their loyalty to him overrode all other considerations, including legality, and that they considered this the height of honor. Interestingly, their oath of office is to uphold the Constitution and doesn't even mention the president, while laws were already on the books that required of them outright disobedience to illegal orders. "Loyalty to the president" isn't mentioned anywhere, although the fact that the laws allow the president to fire members of his government at will certainly explains where it comes from.
In our own time, the Nixon Doctrine of presidential lawlessness is being used far more vigorously than Tricky Dick ever would have dared. From signing statements to illegal search and seizure to cruel and unusual punishment to forced self-incrimination, Bush's "anti-terrorism" campaign has ripped out so many parts of the Constitution he swore to preserve, they should probably just issue an abridged edition to save paper.
In the latest in a long train of usurpations, Bush has ordered staffers Harriet Miers, Joshua Bolten, and Sara Taylor to refuse to answer questions and provide documents demanded by Congress. Such orders from more traditional presidents would only be exposed after a lengthy investigation, but Bush has come right out and done it in the open. According to the dark hints of James Comey, whatever they're hiding is so extreme that that guardian angel of civil liberties, John Ashcroft himself, was ready to resign in 2004 if they didn't stop it, along with Comey and other top Justice Department officials.
The greatest prophet of the sixteenth century might actually not have been Nostradamus but Shakespeare:
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office...
What Hamlet is trying to account for with his great speech, in his princely, flowery language, is why everybody doesn't just off themselves, given how cruddy everything is. The political trends of the past few years lend renewed significance to this question--especially when it comes to the oath of office.
Consider Keith Ellison, the freshman Democratic congressman from Minnesota who was trashed late last year after he announced he'd be taking his oath on the Koran. His Republican colleague Virgil Goode, who serves a district in an area of Virginia that has been a bastion of slavery, Jim Crow, and white paranoia since the nation began, warned against more Muslims coming into the country and electing more Muslims to Congress. Goode also commented, "I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way." In an op-ed, with admirably unintentional irony, he called on Americans to "save Judeo-Christian values" to avoid "leaving ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion."
Bush refused to criticize Goode's overt anti-Muslim bigotry--"no judgments have been made," Bush spokesman Dana Perino explained. But Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took it upon himself to play the good cop for the GOP, distancing himself from Goode's remarks:
"Why would you swear allegiance to a document outside your faith? ...I embrace religious diversity. I welcome this new member of Congress. I'm glad he's swearing allegiance to a document that is consistent with his faith."