Where’s the respect for our president?
When I was very young, I remember my mother telling me to always be respectful of others, and to treat people with the same kind of basic decency with which you expect to be treated.
This isn’t a strange concept. Most people have heard this message from a young age, either from their parents, their teachers or their religion. So why is it now that, in this country of diversity, opportunity and good will that one of the most basic tenets of a civilized society – respect – is being trampled without a second thought?
Today, we are seeing a troubling level of disrespect directed toward our president, a man who, while we can disagree with him on some issues, certainly should command our respect as the leader of the free world. Even George W. Bush, one of the most disliked and ill-regarded presidents in U.S. history, was never interrupted in the middle of an address to Congress by loud outbursts from the opposing party.
In my mind, Congressman Joe Wilson’s behavior during Barack Obama’s address last month was the height of rudeness and disrespect and is not the kind of behavior we as Americans should ever tolerate from our elected leaders. Yet, when the House of Representatives voted to discipline Wilson, Republicans dismissed it a “partisan stunt.”
Partisan? Imagine if a Democrat had disrespected a Republican president in that manner. The GOP would be calling for that person’s resignation. It isn’t “partisan” to admonish a man who spits in our leader’s face; it’s just the right thing to do.
But Wilson’s actions are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the disgusting behavior toward President Obama. Even nine months after his inauguration, the Birther Movement, which asserts that Obama was not actually born in this country and therefore does not have a legitimate claim to the presidency, is still alive and well among certain segments of the population.
This movement of ignorance is not confined to a small set of nutjobs, either. It is a belief that is shared even by members in our armed services. In July, U.S. Army Major Stefan Frederick Cook received an order to deploy to Afghanistan, but he refused to go under the pretense that he believed Obama is not a natural-born citizen and, therefore, is not qualified to be commander in chief.
This ideology surpasses stupidity and speaks to something deeper – a current of ignorant bigotry and discrimination running through our country. If Obama was a white man born in Hawaii whose father was from a foreign country, would there really be a movement against his right to the presidency and calls to see his birth certificate (which, by the way, the U.S. government has released copies of multiple times)? I think not.
In politics, people like to refer to any issue of discrimination that is brought up as “pulling the race card” – but the issue of race isn’t something that should be trivialized to the point where we believe it is disingenuous to bring it up when a situation warrants it. I’m not suggesting that all of the opposition to Obama and his policies is racist – it’s not. But in the case of the Birther Movement, and in the case of weapon-touting protesters outside of Obama’s speeches, it is ignorant to believe that there isn’t an underlying tone of racism.
Is there anyone who honestly believes that the people with semi-automatic rifles out in front of Obama’s town hall meetings on health care are just exercising their Second Amendment rights? If these kinds of things had ever occurred on this scale before, we would have looked upon them with disgust – so why are we allowing this kind of bigotry and disrespect to happen now?
And then of course there is the “fair and balanced” Fox News network, which seems to be on a mission to discredit the president with exaggerations and defamations. Media scrutiny of presidential administrations is not usually a bad thing – it keeps politicians honest. But in the case of pundits like Glenn Beck, who on more than one occasion has compared Obama’s administration to the Third Reich and to socialist governments on his show, today’s “scrutiny” of the Obama administration is ill-founded and misleading.
The kind of rhetoric used by Beck and others on the network make it clear that their issue is not only with Obama’s policies – but with Obama as our president. After all, what has Obama done policy-wise to warrant Beck’s claim that he “hates white people?”
While we as a society have been very critical of our leaders throughout our history, the amount of unfounded criticisms and shows of blatant disrespect toward our current president are unprecedented. You can disagree with a leader on anything and everything they do or say – that’s the beauty of living in a democratic society. But these kinds of outlandish demonstrations and absurd claims are certainly not suitable (or even rational) forms of protest.
Whether you like it or not, Barack Obama has been elected as our president. Let’s at least show him the respect he deserves.
Dan Rahrig is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.