There was a time not so long ago when Americans, regardless of their political stripes, rallied ’round their president. Once elected, the man who won the White House was no longer viewed as a Republican or Democrat, but the president of the United States. The oath of office was taken, the wagons were circled around the country’s borders, and it was America versus the rest of the world, with the president of all the people at the helm.
Suddenly president Barack Obama, with the potential to become an exceptional president, has become the glaring exception to that unwritten, patriotic rule.
Four days before Obama’s inauguration, before he officially took charge of the American government, Rush Limbaugh boasted publicly that he hoped the president would fail. Of course, when the president fails, the country flounders. Wishing harm upon your country in order to further your own narrow political views is selfish, sinister and a tad treasonous as well.
Subsequently, during his State of the Union address, which is pretty much a pep rally for America, an unknown congressional representative from South Carolina, later identified as Joe Wilson, stopped the show when he called the president of the United States a liar. The president showed great restraint in ignoring this unprecedented insult and carried on with his speech. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was so stunned by the slur, she forgot to jump to her feet while clapping wildly, 30 or 40 times after that.
Last spring, president Obama took his wife Michelle to see a play in New York City and Republicans attacked him over the cost of security for the excursion. The president can’t take his wife out to dinner and a show without being scrutinized by the political opposition? As history has proven, a president in a theater without adequate security is a tragically bad idea. (Remember: “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”)
At some point, the treatment of president Obama went from offensive to ugly, and then to downright dangerous.
The healthcare debate, which looked more like extreme fighting in a mud pit than a national dialogue, revealed a very vulgar side of America. Obama’s face appeared on protest signs, white-faced and blood-mouthed in a satanic clown image. In other tasteless portrayals, people who disagreed with his position distorted his face to look like Hitler, complete with mustache and swastika.
Odd that burning the flag makes Americans crazy, but depicting the president as a clown and a maniacal fascist is accepted as part of the new rude America.
Maligning the image of the leader of the free world is one thing; putting the president’s life in peril is quite another. More than once, men with guns were videotaped at the healthcare rallies where the president spoke. Again, history shows that letting men with guns get within range of a president has not served America well in the past.
And still the “birthers” are out there claiming Barack Obama was not born in the United States, although public documentation proves otherwise. Hawaii is definitely part of the United States, but the Panama Canal Zone where his electoral opponent Senator John McCain was born? Nobody’s sure.
Last month, a 44-year-old woman in Buffalo was quite taken by president Obama when she met him in a chicken wing restaurant called Duff’s. Did she say something about a pleasure and an honor to meet the man, or utter encouraging words for the difficult job he is doing? No. Quote: “You’re a hottie with a smokin’ little body.”
Lady, that was the president of the United States you were addressing, not one of the Jonas Brothers! He’s your president, for goodness sakes, not the guy driving the Zamboni at “Monster Trucks On Ice.” Maybe next it’ll be, “Take Your President To A Topless Bar Day.”
In president Barack Obama, Americans have a charismatic leader with a good and honest heart. Unlike his predecessor, he’s a very intelligent leader. And unlike that president’s predecessor, he’s a highly moral man.
In president Obama, Americans have the real deal, the whole package, and a leader that citizens of almost every country around the world look to with great envy. Given the opportunity, Canadians would trade our leader—hell, most of our leaders—for Obama in a heartbeat.
What America has in Obama is a head of state with vitality and insight and youth. Think about it: Barack Obama is a young Nelson Mandela. Mandela was the face of change and charity for all of Africa, but he was too old to make it happen. The great things Obama might do for America and the world could go on for decades after he’s out of office.
America, you know not what you have.
The man is being challenged unfairly, characterized with vulgarity and treated with the kind of deep disrespect to which no previous president was subjected. It’s like the day after electing the first black man to be president, thereby electrifying the world with hope and joy, Americans sobered up and decided the bad old days were better.
President Obama may fail but it will not be a Richard Nixon default, fraught with larceny and lies. President Obama, given a fair chance, will surely succeed, but his triumph will never come with a Bill Clinton caveat—“if only he’d got control of that zipper.”
Please. Give the man a fair, fighting chance. This incivility toward the leader who won over Americans and gave hope to billions of people around the world that their lives could be enhanced by his example just has to stop.
Believe me, when Americans drive by the White House and see a sign on the lawn that reads, “No shirt. No shoes. No service,” they’ll realize this new national rudeness has gone way, way too far.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at Senior Living in October 2010.