October 29, 2012
Debasing the PresidencyBy Ed Lasky
Critics are harping that Barack Obama is running a campaign that in its coarseness, smallness, and pettiness[i] marks a new low in American politics. Why are they so outraged? He has behaved this way ever since he moved into the Oval Office.
Many people have criticized Barack Obama for his failures as president. His economic record is pathetic:
He can also be faulted for making a mockery of the Constitution and our system of checks and balances:
The list goes on and on, with nary a word of criticism from the journalists, professors, and pundits who would decry such steps as dictatorial actions of an imperial president had they been undertaken by a Republican. The New York Times would be calling for impeachment by now.
But Obama is president, so all of these steps are fine. They are admirable in the eyes of the first lady, who said that "Barack has done phenomenal job working around Congress."
However, another measure can be used to illustrate how Barack Obama has debased the presidency. He has done so not just substantively.
But he has debased the presidency by his style.
Few people have commented on how poorly he has projected what should be the magisterial aura of the office.
Anyone who has ever read a biography of George Washington appreciates how the "Father of Our Nation" saw his role. He rejected the notion that he become king but accepted the idea that the president should be a role model. Hence, he affected a regal mien complete with a ramrod posture and sober expression. He was not given to laughter and did not engage in trivial pursuits. He bore the weight of a newly founded nation on his shoulders. He knew that his image would be projected forward through the ages and behaved accordingly. He assumed the responsibilities of the office and treated them with the highest respect.
True, sometimes politicians go to the dark side and engage in tactics to help them win votes. Richard Nixon appeared on Laugh In and uttered the tag line for that series ("sock it to me"); Bill Clinton played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall TV show. Nixon wanted to soften his image; Clinton wanted to gain young voters.
But once in office, presidents drop the populist pose and realize they are presidents and need to act with the respect and dignity that the office deserves (and that is why Bill Clinton's reprehensible behavior with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office struck a nerve).
After all, the White House has been the home of some of our greatest of Americans. Would anyone despoil the home of Abraham Lincoln, FDR, JFK, Eisenhower, and Reagan?
Is it ironic that the man who won praise and an endorsement for his 2008 candidacy from New York Times columnist David Brooks for the perfect crease in his pants doesn't like wearing suits to work?
Who can blame him? But millions of people trudge to work every day wearing suits and uniforms because they are expected to be professionals. Ronald Reagan wore a suit every day. George W. Bush had a tradition of coat-and-tie for the West Wing.
Obama might be cut some slack (though he seems to have plenty of perks) but for the display of hypocrisy. He condescendingly scolds Americans to stop warming our homes to 72 degrees because the "world" will disapprove yet moves the thermostat in the White House to greenhouse levels because he likes to dress casually (sans suit) and because the hothouse atmosphere brings back fond memories of Hawaii.
Granted, this is trivial; there are many more ways that Obama has disgraced the office.
Don't we expect a president (especially the world's greatest orator) to show some discipline in public remarks? Children listen.
During a recent Rolling Stone interview, he said kids -- even those as young as the six-year-old daughter of the reporter -- can look at Romney and say, "Well, that's a bull*****er," putting barnyard slurs in the mouths of children.
He also reportedly said that he saw Romney in a different way from how he saw John McCain in 2008 because Romney was no "goddamn" war hero. Perhaps he got that "goddamn" language from Jeremiah Wright, Junior -- his mentor and moral compass -- who said "goddamn" to all of America.
But Obama-watchers should not be surprised. When Obama is off the teleprompter, there is no telling what language will spew forth -- and that is precisely why he usually is tethered to the teleprompter. When asked about his response to the oil spill, Obama said he was "looking for whose ass to kick."
He so little respected his allies in the Congressional Black Caucus that he made sure to drop the letter g when speaking to them (as Majority Leader Harry Reid noted in 2008, Obama has "no Negro dialect," unless he wants to have one). Is it presidential to talk down to African-Americans?
But it continues -- the lack of gravitas; the lack of the empathy that Americans expect a president will not just display, but feel; the refusal to take his responsibilities as a role model seriously.
Chaos and murder in the Middle East are not "bumps" in the road (Obama also dismissed massive unemployment in America as another "bump in the road"), nor can these troubles be dismissed as "suboptimal." When announcing the massacre of soldiers at Fort Hood by an Islamist, the president spent the first two minutes at the podium chatting with members of the audience and giving a shout-out to someone he knew before getting around to checking off the to-do list and announcing the murders. To be sure, he didn't delay trumpeting the killing of Osama bin Laden -- but he personally and politically benefited from that killing.
Was it presidential to be chewing gum while meeting with world leaders at a G-20 gathering? Was it Nicorette gum to suppress the urge for a cigarette because he nervous about having to socialize without the benefit of a teleprompter?
Was it presidential to return a bust of Winston Churchill to our greatest ally, the United Kingdom? Was it presidential to repeatedly be dismissive to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu -- walking out of a meeting with him so he could have dinner with his family, denying him a photo-op, a meeting -- and then be heard insulting him on an open microphone? Did the Dalai Lama have to go out the back door of the White House, sidestepping trash?
Obama's presidency certainly has been transformational.
For instance, he has transformed the East Room of the White House, historically the location of state dinners and ceremonies, into a nightclub where he and his family and friends can be entertained by the biggest stars in music -- and be guaranteed the best seats in the house. Blues, Country-Western, jazz -- you name it, and he has heard it there in baronial splendor.
Obama has also been transformational when it comes to the Situation Room of the White House. This West Wing room is run by the National Security Council -- it is the epicenter to monitor and deal with crises. The super-secret high-tech equipment allows a president to maintain command and control of America's armed forces. Moviegoers have seen it in any number of movies dealing with the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis; Americans saw a pensive Barack Obama sitting at a table there when photos celebrating the killing of bin Laden were plastered throughout the media.
But few Americans saw it when the holy of holies in the White House became the scene of some tourist photos by Jay-Z and Beyoncé, rapper friends of, and donors to, Barack Obama.
Do you wonder how military and intelligence officials considered that disrespectful display?
While Eisenhower was known as a golfer, Barack Obama has eclipsed his image as the most golf-focused president ever. His frequency of playing is extraordinary. George Bush also enjoyed golf, but he gave it up as unseemly while soldiers were fighting overseas. The president should project an image that respects the sacrifice of soldiers serving and dying, or becoming crippled; Barack Obama does not seem to hold them in the same regard (let alone the many millions unemployed and struggling). At times, he does take time off from the links -- for high-roller fundraisers.
(A digression regarding Obama's campaign: how disgraceful were the suggestions that bridal couples include Obama's re-election campaign as a place people can send cash instead to instead of sending gifts to the betrothed? The happy couple apparently is supposed to be the president and the first lady. Then there are the raffles that allow small-fry donors the chance to gaze at the president over a meal or from the front row at one of his speeches.)
Barack Obama has a well-known aversion to press conferences and interviews with serious journalists. Americans should be able to hear from the president why Benghazi happened and who was responsible. Instead, Obama appears on The View (he was there, in his words, as "eye candy"), gets hard-hitting questions from "journalists" working at People magazine and Entertainment Tonight, is grilled by New Mexican radio show hosts about his pepper preferences, and shoots the breeze with Miami's own "Pimp with a Limp." Meanwhile, the families of Americans slain in Libya want answers to why their sons and husbands died. They won't get the answers from the Pimp with a Limp, and they won't get them from President Obama, either.
Does the president of the United States, a symbol of America, have to show the office so little respect? Does he have to show us so little respect?
Petty, small-minded, disgraceful, narcissistic. Those are the descriptions being bandied about regarding Obama's campaign style.
They are also apt descriptions of the Obama presidency.
[i] Big Bird, Bayonets, Binders, third stage Romnesia, Romney is a felon, murderer and tax cheat, The (lying) Life of Julia video, the losing virginity commercial
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