When George Bush was president and I was at the height of my teenage-angst authority troubles, I took delight in calling him a fascist, a moron, a patsy for the far more evil Dick Cheney, and far worse.
On more than one occasion, I was admonished by an older white person, usually a man, with one version or another of the same basic line: You may disagree with the man, but you must respect the office of the president.
He was elected fair and square (a point I contested on Bush’s part, at least until 2004), and the American people have spoken. He performs the duties of the office now and for as long as he sits in the Oval Office, and as president he deserves our respect.
Fast forward to 2009 and not even members of congress seemed to be held to this unwritten rule of respect for the leader of the free world. A republican legislator from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, had the blatant disrespect to shout, “You Lie,” during the president’s state of the union address.
Outside Federal Hall in New York, passers by can often see Tea Party demonstrators—even during Obama’s “lame duck” year—holding banners comparing him to Hitler and the devil himself. In a slap in the face to the executive that hasn’t seen precedent in the history of the country, Republican leadership attempted to conduct direct diplomatic negotiations with a foreign power, writing to Iranian officials and in effect telling the Islamic Republic that Obama’s plans for peace were not their plans.
No one shouted “You lie” at George Bush’s state of the union after he played dress up as a fighter pilot on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared that our mission in the middle east had been accomplished. Harry Reid never sent Afghani officials a letter apologizing for Bush II’s treatment of their country. No one ever questioned George Bush’s legal right to be president or made him provide a long-form birth certificate.
A fifth of the country didn’t think Bush was a foreigner or a secret muslim. Most telling of all, some semblance of bipartisanship still existed in the halls of government. Things got pushed through congress at a glacially slow pace, but they moved through. There was no culture of simply ignoring the executive’s agenda by the opposition, effectively putting meaningful change on standstill just because it could be done. So what’s changed?
Michael A. Fletcher, a journalist who is far more articulate on the subject, recently published a long form piece in which he makes the argument that whether or not it’s open or even intentional in all cases, the president’s race has a great deal to do with this need to block his agenda. Fletcher makes the case with more objectivity—not to mention more hard evidence and more biting insight—than I could hope to cooly summon were I in his shoes. I won’t rehash his argument here, as it merits a complete read, but I will add my own two cents.
First, that I seem to recognize the look of entitled indignation on the faces of republican lawmakers as they defend their constant blocking of the executive agenda. I’ve seen it on the public golf courses I play every weekend when older white men and women get paired with black golfers and introduce themselves: It’s gruff at the prospect of dealing with “this kind of person” in one of their sacred enclaves but determined to be diplomatic as if to show superior breeding. It’s odd proto-smirk seems to say, “I’m going to pretend to respect you for the term of this engagement, but don’t ever for a second think we’re equal.”
Next, that Congress’s refusal to confirm President Obama’s nominee for supreme court is the cherry on top of a shit sundae Republicans addicted to nostalgia and the status quo have been spoon feeding the president since January 2009.
This week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said at a term report attended by circuit court judges that eight “was not a good number” for the supreme court. “That means no opinions and no precedential value," she said, adding that "an equal division is essentially the same as a denial of review." This deadlock is, of course, exactly what Republicans in congress are hoping for. If they can simply ignore Obama for another half a year they just might get a white guy to make the nomination, which is of course just one step toward Making America Great Again™.