Speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program last Friday, Dan Rather volunteered to act as an unelected editor of the Constitution. According to Rather, the nation would be better served by ignoring the Twentieth Amendment to allow President-elect Obama to take the office early.
Rather said (transcript carried by the Media Research Center web site):
"What we need out of the President is focus on the job at hand. We can't afford to waste an hour, much less a day or a week or a month. ... I'd be in favor of moving [the inauguration] up to December 1st. Get the election over. Get a new president in December 1st."
"But, we're in possibly, possibly the biggest crisis we've been in since December 7, 1941 and maybe since the time of the Civil War. So, we can't afford to have this interregnum. The old order is gone. The new order is not yet in place."
Perhaps Rather did not study his U.S. history thoroughly. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution has established the inauguration thus:
Amendment XX. Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
Is Rather suggesting that we amend or suspend the supreme law of the land? Someone should tap him on the shoulder and remind him that there has never been a national emergency - even those cited, World War II and the Civil War - in which the nation found any justification to alter the time table for the lawful succession of the office of President.
I'm certain that Rather is anxious to get President Bush off-stage as quickly as possible. Maybe then his shame for the collapse of his professional ethics in the Air National Guard letter scandal can begin to dissipate.
The strength of our system comes, in part, from its yeoman-like dependability. When we begin pulling, tweaking and skewing our laws to fit the circumstances of the moment they lose their meaning and cease the reflect a solid framework from which we can all determine how to behave in society. A learned man like Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, sitting near Rather on the Morning Joe panel, should leaned over and smacked Rather as a proxy for the nation.