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The Office and the Occupant

In early September of 2009, many self-described ‘conservatives’ made asses of themselves by accusing President Obama of trying to brainwash school children with some kind of nefarious ‘liberal’ catechism in his annual “back to school” speech.  It would have been laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

My friend Ira Goldman and I had been talking about various political idiocies during that time, so I wrote this to him as a kvetch.  It just seemed that everyone else was either behaving either too stupidly or too self-righteously to hear it.

5 September 2009

The uproar over President Obama making a speech to school kids is ludicrous and, once again, undermines efforts to steer the liberals away from their most harmful and anti-liberty projects by making the conservatives, by association with such paranoia, look like idiots. The response, even to well-reasoned and principled opposition, is now the general-purpose dismissal, “Oh, it’s just those crazies again”; and a Republican party (and any Republican office-holder or aspirant) that wants to reclaim any moral authority and/or intellectual integrity should be up front in telling those people, “Get over yourselves! And stop claiming to speak for me!”

But I have to ask: Wasn’t the root of this paranoia established by the left during the Bush years?

The wingnuts complaining about Obama’s speech are failing to distinguish between the Office of the President and the man who occupies it. They so dislike and distrust the man that they can’t accept any action of the Office, no matter how proper and reasonable.

But wasn’t that precedent set by those leftist nutters who utterly refused to accept George W. Bush’s legitimacy — “He’ll never be my President!” — and who did everything in their power to undermine anything and everything he did just because he did it, even if it undermined the nation in the process? Did they not create the template of contempt for the Office that we are now seeing? Did they not set the pattern of refusal to respect the Office because they did not respect the man? And, if we are honest about it, was that not, in itself, a continuation of the pattern they set during the administrations of Nixon and Reagan (and, to be fair, embraced by the right during the Clinton years)?

Looking back on Presidential history, it seems to me that the attitude, of which this is merely the latest manifestation, was mostly invented by the left for Nixon and Reagan and it’s been our bane ever since. Perhaps my historical vision is too short; perhaps this attitude goes back farther. But it does seem like, prior to Nixon and Reagan, we were pretty good at holding the Office in esteem even if we opposed the man who held it. And it does seem like it was the rabid left who consciously and systematically tore down that esteem by tearing down the conceptual separation between Office and occupant.

It’s the “politics of the personal” taken to its logical conclusion.

© Copyright 2009, Augustus P. Lowell

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