Respecting The Presidency And What It Represents (Robert Coon On Politics)

by Robert Coon  on Wednesday, May. 14, 2014 11:30 am  

Robert Coon

“Don't read the comments underneath news stories of Obama's trip to Arkansas. Trust me.”  

Those comments on Twitter from Little Rock attorney Chris McNeal caught my attention last week in the midst of President Barack Obama’s visit to Arkansas to survey damage done by the EF-4 tornado that ravaged parts of central Arkansas on April 27. Ignoring his warning, I took a look for myself – quickly seeing just how cynical, and truly sad, many individuals in our society have become due to their inability to set aside political obsessions, even in times of crisis.

The president, who was making his first visit to Arkansas since being elected in 2008, came to tour communities in Pulaski and Faulkner counties, which suffered unfathomable losses, including 16 deaths, more than 100 injuries, and untold millions of dollars in property damage to homes and businesses.  Current damage estimates include 825 homes – 337 of which were destroyed – and extreme economic devastation in the community of Vilonia, where up to 85 percent of businesses were lost.

Despite the magnitude of this terrible disaster, the president’s trip to Arkansas still drew critics – though most of them chose to hide behind the cloak of message board anonymity rather than publicly own their comments. Some claimed the president’s visit was a publicity stunt to support Sen. Mark Pryor’s re-election campaign. Others asserted that the trip wouldn’t have any benefit unless the president wore work clothes and started moving debris himself. Some focused their critiques on the costs associated with bringing Air Force One, support vehicles and staff to Arkansas, suggesting that the visit was a meaningless waste of tax dollars.

Narrow-minded thinking like this not only shows a lack of respect for the office of the presidency, but more importantly, misses the bigger picture of what the presidency represents and why it provides so much inspiration and comfort in times of tragedy and despair.

Growing Culture of Disrespect

It’s a well-established fact that President Obama is unpopular in Arkansas, and has been since he was first elected. In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama only garnered 38.8 percent of the vote – losing by roughly 20 percentage points to Senator John McCain.  Four years later, that gap widened as Obama mustered only 36.9 percent to Mitt Romney’s 60.5 percent. Today, Obama’s job approval numbers show that not much has changed as far as Arkansas public opinion goes.

Disapproval of the president, his decisions, or his policies does not justify disrespect toward the office itself – whether the officeholder is Barack Obama, George W. Bush or someone else. But as our culture has grown more political and more divided, outright disrespect toward the president has become more prevalent.

Take, for example, those who jeered and booed President George W. Bush – a man who had just given 8 hard years of his life diligently serving his country - as he arrived at the Inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. Or the wildly inflammatory statement that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” made by rapper Kanye West on live television – during a fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina, no less.

And of course no one can forget the famous “You lie!” outburst directed at President Obama by South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson at the 2009 State of the Union Address – an appalling moment of disrespect toward the president and the office of the presidency that showed equal disregard for the institution of Congress of which Wilson is a member.

It goes without saying that snarky comments on a message board forum are far less egregious than these public acts of contempt toward the president. But they are a byproduct of our increasingly partisan political environment, in which acts of disrespect have become too common and too acceptable. Sadly, by condoning attitudes and actions like these against the president, we diminish the very office that embodies the heart and soul of the American people.

The Presidency In Times of Crisis



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