...I hear some confusion on the subject from time to time, so, here's today's American history lesson. Ahem:
Establishing firm civilian control over the military, Article II, Sect. 2 of the United States Constitution provides (in pertinent part) that "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States [...]".
I bring this up because some folks seem to have difficulty distinguishing between the (Constitutional) notion of "Commander in Chief" of the armed forces*, and the (Unconstitutional) notion of "Commander in Chief" of the country. Having overthrown their own king, The Founders explicitly rejected monarchy in all forms; knowing the weaknesses of men, they consciously divided powers into competing centers (see "separation of powers," "checks and balances"), precisely in order to prevent the U.S. from ever having a king.
Unless you are serving in the armed forces, then, a President is NOT your Commander in Chief. Presidents have only the powers granted them under the Constitution itself**...one reason that document requires them (Article II, Sect. 1) to swear, before assuming office, to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States".***
The idea that everyone in one's country is, or at least should be, under the direct rule of any one human being is a perfectly "patriotic" notion...if you're a subject of King George III in the eighteenth century, or of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin in the 1940's, or even of Saddam Hussein in February 2003, come to that. In America, however -- the land of "live free or die" -- such a notion is treasonous. For upwards of two hundred thirty years Americans have dreamed, and schemed, and spent, and fought and died trying to wipe such a cowardly and abhorrent obedience off the face of the earth, forever. I, for one, hope to God they never stop doing so, until they succeed.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* Note, btw, that even presidential power over the armed forces has limits, as established at Nuremberg and thereafter. For example, if a President orders soldiers under his command to engage in genocide, they are not only entitled to disobey that order; they are in fact not entitled to obey it. We hanged men at Nuremberg for "only following orders," determining once and for all that "following orders" was no defense whatever for those committing war crimes.
** Either by enumeration in that document, or by law which accords with it.
*** As some few people apparently too busy pissing themselves with fear to give a damn about their country's history and freedoms are wont to point out, several otherwise-admired Presidents have acted extraconstitutionally in short-term emergencies: Abe Lincoln during an actual civil war, for example. They have nearly always been punished for it by the courts or Congress. In any event, no President -- until recently, alas -- has ever claimed that such a suspension of the Constitution could become a long-term, or even permanent, feature of American life. It is now up to the Congress, courts, and people of the United States to decide whether this assertion is to be allowed to stand.