Disagreeing agreeably is a talent a lot of people haven’t mastered. This is particularly evident in politics the world over, but the American presidency seems to attract more than its share. Politics is always wont for critical thinkers who are not critical.
Every American President knows he’ll be condemned if he does and condemned if he doesn’t. It comes with the territory, so as Harry Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
But there’s something especially perverse, particularly from a Christian point of view, when the loyal opposition disrespects not only the policy but the person.
Recently, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain referred to former Speaker of the House Democrat Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy.” We all know “sticks and stones will break our bones, but names will never hurt me.” But really, is calling another national leader an intentionally sarcastic name “presidential”? And Cain of all people, who is battling stories about old sexual harassment allegations, should avoid commentary that smacks of chauvinism.
President Obama is, as president, regularly excoriated in the Republican, conservative, and sometimes general press or social media. Again, this comes with the territory. President George W. Bush certainly caught more than his share of the same. But what’s disturbing is the number of times the President is attacked as a man not as a political leader with particular policy views.
Talk show conservative Rush Limbaugh has called President Obama “Pharaoh,” “Jackass,” “Triple Double Oreo,” and worse. You expect this from an info-tainer, but not so much we’d hope from political leaders. Republican presidential candidates have a list of their own derogatory names for the President and for each other, and the President’s been known to use a few of his own for them.
The point, though, is not silly names but an attitude of genuine disrespect toward the individual and by implication the Office. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and Fox News commentator and comedian Dennis Miller are both known for a no-holds-barred approach. But in terms of the President, both men have consistently expressed respect for the Obama the man. Both men have repeatedly said on television that they like the President, appreciate how he treats his wife and daughters, are glad for him and the country in the sense that this democracy did indeed elect a Black president, and actually enjoy being with him. This respect in no way prevents them from slicing and dicing, daily, President Obama’s political views and actions. Sadly, O’Reilly has actually been criticized by his conservative constituency for expressing favorable views of Obama the man.
Respecting a political leader, no matter who they are, and particularly the President sets a tone for disagreement, discussion, and debate. It sets a tone for potential common ground, agreement, a working consensus, governance.
I for one am glad President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner have golfed together. President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill used to do political battle throughout the day, than meet for drinks and stories at day’s end. They were political foes and personal friends.
I like how President Obama carries himself, projecting an image of sophistication and class. I’m especially glad that his relationship with his wife and daughters, like President Bush before him, is genuine and a good model. I like it when President Obama gives eloquent speeches, even when I often disagree considerably with his policy perspectives.
I will likely vote for someone other than President Obama in the next election because I do not agree with the direction he is leading or non-leading the country. I do not embrace many of his philosophic or political/economic views. But I like the man and I respect the Office.
So I’m weary of character attacks leveled at the President by people who should be able to martial more astute arguments supporting their views than cheap name-calling or ad hominem jibes.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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