Ronald Reagan wouldn’t even remove his suit jacket when he was in the Oval Office at the White House. That is how much he respected the office of President of the United States. Bill Clinton, well that’s another story that does not bear repeating. If a President wants to be treated like a President, he must honor the office and the country he represents at all times. He doesn’t go on MTV and answer an impertinent question in regard to his underwear and he doesn’t demean or disrespect the office of President in any way. In short, it is one of his responsibilities to set the public tenor in the land whenever he is in public and even after he leaves the office bestowed upon him by the American people. As a former President, he must continue his responsibility to act presidential as has every President, regardless of party, from time immemorial with the stark exception of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. A former President must stand above the fray encouraging and supporting the man or woman then in office, especially when the nation is in danger or at risk in any way. A man or woman of character understands this. He doesn’t accept a Noble prize on the condition that it trashes the current occupant of the office, and he isn’t the political mud slinger in chief.
Highly respected long time White House correspondent for Time magazine, the late Hugh Sidey (who I was privileged to meet on several occasions) served for a time as President of the White House Historical Association. Always a gentleman, Mr. Sidey was very protective of the White House as a national treasure. He was also concerned with the conduct of the occupant of the White House, especially in regard to the respect, dignity and honor which that person gave, or failed to give, to his high office.
Upon the defeat of President Carter in 1980 by Ronald Reagan, Mr. Sidey wrote a critique of the way Mr. Carter handled his official duties as President. Although Hugh Sidey was a liberal, this particular article did not deal with issues, but rather with the decorum and etiquette of President Carter as our official representative and leader to the rest of the world. Mr. Sidey was uncharacteristically critical of the outgoing President. He was offended on day one by Mr. Carter’s decision to use his nickname, rather than his full name, James Earl Carter. He was unhappy with a President of the United States making an address to the nation wearing a yellow cardigan sweater. And he was particularly upset that Carter, during his term in office, chose to ignore established White House protocol and etiquette by seating his wife next to him during official state dinners, using poor wine, and toasting at the improper time. Mr. Sidey, not Jimmy Carter, had the correct perspective on how a President should act, i.e. be presidential at all times.
I feel confident that if Hugh Sidey would have written about the behavior of Barack Obama that it would have been similarly uncomplimentary. He would have disapproved of the classlessness of the President giving an iPod to the Queen of England containing his speeches. And he would have understood that summarily returning the Churchill bust to the British Government during the first few days of his presidency was an affront to our closest ally. He would have shaken his head sadly as the President went on his apology tour and he would have been shocked by this President or any President bowing to sheiks, kings, and tin horn dictators.
A President, especially while in office, has a responsibility to present himself in a presidential manner at all times. He is, after all, the leader of all Americans and it is his responsibility to carry on his duties as President so that he brings respect and honor upon the office he holds, not just upon himself.
I recognize that President Obama is a young man with limited experience in the public arena. He only served as a State Senator prior to being elected to the United States Senate. He served in the Senate for less than two years (most of which time he was campaigning for President), and he has been President of the United States for only a short period. Nevertheless, if he seeks the office, he must bear the responsibility of maintaining the traditions of the office. When he does so, he not only strengthens our nation, but brings respect and honor on himself as well as the office of President.
It gives me no joy to say that President Obama has failed miserably in fulfilling this important responsibility. I wish for his sake and for the sake of our nation that it was not so. His latest news conference on the settlement he reached with the recently empowered Republican leadership in regard to the extension of the Bush tax cuts was just the latest example of a young man not being ready to lead our nation.
Charles Krauthammer was understandably disturbed that the President did not thank or acknowledge the Republicans who participated in the negotiations for their cooperation and leadership. As Mr. Krauthammer said, it is simple courtesy to do so. A failure to act in a gentlemanly way hurts both the standing of the President, the office of the President, and ultimately, the nation. Anger does not elevate Mr. Obama nor his standing with the American people. Being President of the United States is not some political game. It’s about being the leader of the free world and of the American people. It’s about putting the good of the nation before yourself or even your political objectives. It takes a big man to be a good President.
One is tempted to shout, “Grow up!” at the President. Being President is not about you, Mr. Obama, it’s about the United States of America. You are the President of every man, woman, and child in the United States. Please act like a President at all times and follow the traditions of men who have served in that high office since its first occupant, George Washington. You’re my President and I expect you to be the moral, dignified, and courageous leader of our nation. It is my responsibility to honor you as you serve, for as Paul said in Romans 13:7, “If you owe someone respect, respect that person. If you owe honor, honor that person.” But also remember what Paul said to those in power, “People in the government are God’s servants while they do the work he has given them” (Romans 13:6b).
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