I’m old enough to remember a time when the Office of the President was afforded a basic level of dignity and respect. While policy differences with a sitting president have always been fair game for the party out of power, there was an overriding ethos that the Office itself was too important to undermine, no matter the prevailing political winds.
For instance, differences regarding foreign policy were said to end at the nation’s shores. Criticism of a sitting president was unacceptable when uttered from the soil of a foreign country— just ask The Dixie Chicks. The best selling female band in U.S. history, the Chicks became the pariahs of the Country & Western music industry after an apology in 2003 to a London concert audience for hailing from the same state as their president, George W. Bush, who was then just days away from ordering an invasion of Iraq. In no time at all, the Chicks were dropped from C&W radio station play lists, and saw their concert audiences dwindle to half.
However, no comparable penalty was imposed on House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Kantor six years later when during a visit to Israel with a retinue of his fellow congressmen, Kantor denounced the president’s objection to expanded Israeli settlements on the West Bank, notwithstanding that’s been U.S. policy since 1967. As the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss wrote at the time:
“Maybe it’s too much to ask Cantor and his colleagues to recognize the injustice and indecency of Israeli policy toward Jerusalem’s non-Jewish residents. But it shouldn’t be too much to expect them not to go abroad and provide cover for it.”
Yet another example of IOKIYAR.
Poisoning the Well
Exercising respect for the presidency was considered a given for what has traditionally been referred to as the “Loyal Opposition.” But those days are gone. One can track the modern poisoning of the political well to a young Republican political upstart named Newt Gingrich during President Clinton’s first term. Gingrich used the results of focus group research by Frank Luntz to determine precisely which words would stir the negative emotions of a targeted slice of the electorate, and how they in turn could be manipulated to help realize a radical, authoritarian political agenda. Gingrich would use his front group GOPAC to distribute these findings to select Rethug operatives, as summarized in a 1994 memo titled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.“
While the expression of disdain and even hatred and for a particular president is as old as The Republic itself, technological innovations such as the Internet, the advent of cable television, and the dominance of right wing hate radio has fundamentally altered the political equation. Non-stop 24 hour media propaganda has produced an unprecedented level of hate, racism, and intolerance that has polarized the electorate. Among other things, it has made a mockery of Present Obama’s quixotic attempts at bipartisanship and compromise.
The State of the Union
Article 2, Section Three of the US Constitution mandates that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient…” Tradition has it that such reports are given to Congress in January of each year. Naturally, all members of the Legislative Branch are expected to attend. However, last week’s SOTU was boycotted by Congressman Doug Lamborn (Rethug-Colorado Springs) simply because, as his office confirmed, he “does not support the policies of Barack Obama.” (Note the lack of the title “President” before Obama’s name.) This is the same Doug Lamborn who last summer, compared Obama’s presidency to a “tar baby.”
Lampert wasn’t the only GOPer to insult the president pursuant to this year’s SOTU speech. Think Progress reports on a speech delivered to a local Florida chapter of the GOP by freshman Congressman Allen West:
Just days after President Obama reiterated his call for an end to partisan gridlock in Washington, Rep. Allen West (R-FL) delivered an incendiary speech at the Palm Beach County GOP Party Lincoln Day Dinner in West Palm Beach calling on prominent Democrats to “get the hell out” of America:
“This is a battlefield that we must stand upon and we need to let president Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and my dear friend, the chairman of the Democrat National Committee [Debbie Wasserman-Schultz], we need to let them know that Florida is not on the table. Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, and take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.”
Rep. Allen West tells President Obama to “get the hell out” of HIS country
Insults and Other Snubs
Even the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Preibus, has taken to insulting the president. Last Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, he told astonished host Bob Schieffer:
“In the end, in a few months, this is all going to be ancient history and we’re going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino, which is President Obama who is abandoning the ship here in the United States. He’s more interested in campaigning than doing his job as President.”
Captain Schettino, is, of course, the ill-fated Captain of the cruise ship Costa Concordia that ran aground last month off the coast of Italy. Schettino is currently under investigation for criminal negligence, including multiple counts of manslaughter (17 confirmed dead to date, 15 still unaccounted for). His defense to charges that he deserted his passengers and crew while they were still trying to abandon ship sounds like something torn from the pages of the modern Rethug playbook: Schettino claims to have tripped, falling into one of the lifeboats. That the Chairman of the GOP would compare President Obama to this incompetent, lying coward shows just how far the now vanished Loyal Opposition has sunk.
Dissing the Prez Goes Viral
Disrespect for President Obama isn’t limited to those who live inside the Beltway. Last week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was photographed sticking her finger in President Obama’s face. Her account of the incident— that it was just a random still image of her animated speaking style, and that the President was being rude— was contradicted by two Arizona mayors that were standing just a few feet away. One thing we know for sure: sales of her book, the appropriately titled Scorpions For Breakfast, soared over a million percent in the days immediately following. Getting into the president’s grill is apparently good for business. (Previously, Brewer had to rely on her special PAC, whose purpose is to promote immigration reform, to boost sales of her book, spending some 15% of its total funds in the process.)
Outside the political universe, every Wingnut within the range of right wing talk radio and Fux News is getting into the act. In the world of sports, it’s traditional for the president to host winning teams at the White House. Last week, the honorees were the Stanley Cup Champion hockey team, the Boston Bruins. Absent was the team’s goalie, Tim Thomas. A local Massachusetts television station reported the incident as follows:
SPRINGFIELD, Mass (WGGB) — Tuesday night the President Obama addresses the nation, but you can bet that Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas won’t be watching. Monday while the Bruins were special guests at the White House, Thomas, one of the Bruins most visible players, was a no-show. Saying that, “The federal government has grown out of control,” Thomas took a pass on his chance to meet the President. It was a decision that left his team short-handed, and Thomas in the penalty box with many fans and in the national sportspages.
“Tim Thomas is certainly entitled to his opinion,” said Western New England University professor John Baick. “But it is part of a larger fabric of saying that I don’t want to play with you. I’m going to take my ball, my puck, or my mask and go home.”
But what Tim Thomas decided to do on Monday, his Presidential no-show, is just more of the same. Americans no longer hold the office of President in the same regard they once did.
“If the President walks into the room you stand-up,” said professor Baick. “You refer to him as Mr. President. You have a certain respect for the position, for the office regardless of who occupies it. That was part of the political deal of America in the 20th Century. That’s gone now.”
Also gone should be any remaining White House illusions that the Rethugs are in any way interested in helping President Obama help the country. All they’re concerned with is their personal and collective power. Apparently it doesn’t matter to them in the slightest that by so virulently undermining the person of the president they are undermining the Office of the President itself.