Paul R. Lehman,Disrespect for the President has consequences far beyond the immediate present

January 29, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, Prejudice, Race in America, Respect for President | 1 Comment
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According to American politicians one of their major concerns is children. For example, many references have been made regarding the national debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay or the need for better education and health services for them. While all these concerns are valid, one concern apparently goes unchecked—common decency and respect for the President. Ever since his election, people in general, and many politicians in particular, have set unacceptable examples for our children by not showing proper respect for the office of the president or the individual serving as president. The attitude and treatment of the President displayed by many of his critics have been despicable to say the least. However, the vocal criticism of the President has been for the better part of his term like the five-hundred-pound elephant in the room; everybody knows it is there, but no one calls attention to it. At least not until recently when CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer spoke out  last Thursday on the Evening News.

As Americans we have been witnesses to the lack of respect directed towards President Obama from the very beginning. Some like to think that the criticism of the President comes from his party affiliation; however, the criticism is usually directed at his person, not his policies.  The lack of respect for the President that continues reflects more on a matter of perception rather than any policy or action. For example, even before the President had offered any plan for Congress to consider, the leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell made the statement that in essence his party’s chief object for the next four years was to see that President Obama serves only one term. What kind of message did that statement send to our children?

Later, during the President’s address to the Congress, one of the Representatives’, Joe Wilson, yelled the word “liar” directed at the President relative to one of his comments. This incident marked a first in recent times that a President would not only be interrupted during his speech but also be accused of lying. Rather than being disciplined by his colleagues, he was rewarded by some of his supporters with more than a million dollars in campaign funds. What lesson should our children learn for this experience?

The lack of respect for the President spilled over into the military briefly when a magazine article quoted Army General Stanley McChrystal making disparaging remarks about the President. Again, the focus of the remarks landed on the character of the President rather than concerns about policies or plans. This General showed little respect for the fact that the President is the Commander-in-Chief, his boss. Fortunately, since the General’s comments became part of the public record, they could not be ignored, so he was fired by the President. What lesson should our children learn from this experience?

In every one of these above mentioned incidents, the disrespect for the President was shown by European Americans, not that some African Americans have also made some contributions in this regard. However, the majority of the atypical behavior seems to come from individuals who refuse to see the President Obama as leader of the country and feel superior to him. They also feel at liberty to act on their perceptions. When they execute their behavior, they evidently give little thought to how their words and actions will affect the children. The fact that they have not been called to answer for their lack of decency regarding the President shows a problem that Schieffer addressed in his comments.

What prompted Schieffer to make his comments involved a picture of the Arizona Governor Jan Brewer poking her finger in President Obama’s face. The focus of the problem reflected by this gesture, according to Schieffer, is “not a Democratic or Republican issue, but a question of how the Office of the president is treated.” He continues by saying “This is just another sign of the incivility and really the vulgarity of modern American campaigns. These campaigns have gotten so ugly and so nasty, that they’re tarnishing the whole system.” Rather than speaking to the President’s ethnicity as part of the problem, Schieffer says “I think it also underlines the coarseness of our culture in this age of social media when it is so easy to say anything about anybody and get no penalty for saying it.”

He could have easily been making a reference to the comment someone made about Newt Gingrich “putting in his place” Juan Williams, an African American correspondent who questioned Newt about his ex-wife’s comments on open marriage. In essence, Williams should not have taken that liberty with Newt, a European American. The statement regarding “putting someone in his place” had never been made regarding any questions posed by other correspondents. No one made reference to the fact that it reflected Newt’s ethnically superior attitude towards Williams until much later.

Schieffer’s concluding comments brought to mind the impression that the disrespectful actions and words regarding the President might have on our children. He said that “The thing that has always made our system so strong is that whatever we have thought of the office holders, we have held the offices themselves in high respect. We have respected the office.” Then he ends with “I’ve watched a lot of presidents over the years but I can never recall a president stepping off Air Force One, which is itself a symbol of the presidency and American democracy, and being subject to such rudeness. I think really we’re a better people than this little incident illustrates.”

We would all like to think that we are better people, but until we start speaking out and teaching our children that being respectful is the only acceptable behavior, we will have to contend with these public examples.  And believe it on not, children will learn from our examples, respectful or disrespectful.


1 Comment »

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  1. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” [Proverbs 22:6]

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