We, in this country, have a proud history of respect for the office of the President. We rally around those who inspire us and lead us through troubled times. We have worked to separate the man from the office, and we have been successful in the past. There have always been jokes about the President, and comedians are supposed to push the envelope, to go where you don’t expect them to go. Something has changed, however, in the last decade. Where there was once reverence for the office and a certain degree of respect for the man in the White House, there is now antagonistic treatment of the Presidency.
In previous generations, bad jokes about the President would have been met with a frown or, at best, a nervous chuckle. But today, the Presidency is the bread and butter of late night routines and gets only slightly better treatment in the mainstream media.
I am old enough to remember Ronald Reagan sitting with Mikhail Gorbachev and recognizing that these men were the leaders of the greatest nations in the world – and that was a source of pride for me. I was eleven years old.
Ten years later, however, I was afforded the transcripts of the deposition with Bill Clinton where he outlined in detail his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and I suffered visions of her stained dress and her sordid appearances on the covers of tabloids on a regular basis.
Was it Bill Clinton that changed the way that we approach the Presidency? I think not, as there was respect and reverence for the office of the President when the public became increasingly aware of JFK’s personal life. There was still a separation in the eyes of the people, and the public recognized that a man can be good at his job and poor at his marriage. We treated the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal with reckless abandon. The GOP wrung its hands with delight and shouted from the hilltop for a public hanging. The media lunged at the opportunity to increase circulation and viewership, and they butchered that story for all of its parts and pieces. Late night television provided an increasingly trivial one-liner view of the office of the Presidency and of the man who held it.
George Bush won the office by the skin of his teeth as the public became weary of anything related to the disgrace of that period. It was George Bush, then, who gave a new head of steam to the process of trivializing the office of the President. After 9/11, we had the opportunity to restore our faith in that office, to reclaim the respect for the man, and to look to a leader who would regain the dignity of America. What we saw was not thoughtful diplomacy, or calculated action, or inspirational rhetoric. We saw a cowboy foreign policy carried out by a gun-slinger with his six shooter mentality. We heard “Dead or alive” speeches reminiscent of a time that only works in film and that plays out with devastation on the international stage. We didn’t rally around the values of sacrifice and pride, but around the emotional cry for retribution and the false sense of security that comes from redemptive violence.
I have been thinking a lot about this in the last few days, trying to figure out why I don’t have a strong reaction to the President Bush shoe throwing incident . I have read, even here on this magazine, about the outrage that many have felt about the lack of respect for the office of our President. I have nodded my head and agreed, but I must say that my initial reaction to the shoe incident was more of a chuckle and and a quick thought: “Doesn’t everyone want to throw their shoes at Bush?”
I noticed that many of the strong reactions over the shoe incident have come from established news organizations and folks who are part of a generation that has lived through the great Presidencies and can reminisce about the grandeur of the office of the leader of the free world. Some of us, however, are less fortunate, and we looked ahead with hope to a day when we are outraged at someone who insults our President.
President Obama has brought us that hope. And we are outraged by the treatment of this President. Insane shouts of socialism and communism ring from the narrow minds of the Tea Party. Posters designed to insult the President are contemptible. In another time, like World War II, these protests would be met with shouts of traitor – the protesters would be charged with treason.
It seems today that the entire Republican Party has joined the refrain of disparaging the Office of President. The vaguely masked GOP fronts of the Tea Party and Freedom Works insult the sensibilities of real American Patriots. We live in a dangerous world – a world fraught with terrorism, with threats of global climate change, with sensitive economic markets that depend on global cooperation, a world of rogue nations building nuclear weapons, a world where the need for respect for leaders is at a premium.
President Obama has brought new world respect to the Office. We Americans should be proud.
Right now, we only tune in to the late night entourage to see what the latest one-liners might be…