"In contrast to the vitriolic rants you'll find on some political blogging sites, Palmer gives in-depth analysis and commentary." --Dan Cook, The Free Times

1/20/2009

Lame Political Discourse: The Politics of Small

After a campaign that lasted almost two years, Barack Obama was officially sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. An estimated 1.5 million people crowded into the National Mall in Washington to see the transfer of power with untold millions of others watching from around the world.

In a world in which changes of power are so commonly characterized by assassinations, kidnappings, and riots, the peaceful and orderly American model gives me great pride. But while this day is certainly one of the most monumental in my 32-year lifetime, unfortunately, I will remember this historic day for other less savory reasons that I was hoping were put to rest after last November's elections.

Many people in the crowd gathered in Washington, presumably mostly Democrats, booed the outgoing President George Bush when he was introduced through the loudspeakers. Some people in the crowd even went so far as to taunt him by singing "Kiss 'Em Goodbye," a song that is commonly heard at sporting events. This was a very undignified and unfortunate display of immaturity that soiled the tone of this historic day and contradicted everything that now-President Obama had advocated during the campaign.

President Bush was certainly both unpopular and controversial. But there should be a certain level of respect and decorum that is maintained on such a stage. The President is our national leader. And while our Constitution certainly guarantees us the freedom to ridicule him, it is bad form to do so on a day such as this. It is to nobody's benefit to gin up partisan attitudes and erode the goodwill that Obama has worked so hard to generate among people outside of his ideological tent. It was wrong when Republicans slammed the door in Democrats' faces during the Bush presidency, and it would be just as wrong for Democrats to do the same during Obama's presidency. Just because one's preferred candidate won doesn't make it right to express your disapproval this way on this stage. This is not a sport. This is history. This is the political system to which we wish for other governments to aspire. Keeping one's partisan instincts in check for one day shouldn't be too much to ask.

But it's not just liberals who have stained what should be a joyous day for this country. Now conservative websites are abuzz about the botched presidential oath. According to First Read, both President Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts made mistakes when reciting this seemingly simple oath. Obama jumped in too fast at the beginning, and Roberts got the order of the words wrong later on. Conservative critics are mocking Obama for his lack of eloquence without a teleprompter. Others are worrying that he will mess up the country the same way he "messed up" the oath.

How unbelievably petty.

It's a shame that of all the things to talk about today, the mangling of the oath is generating so much attention. Not Iraq. Not the economy. Not the stock market, which took another 300-point hit today. But the crispness of the presidential oath. This kind of political sniping reeks of smallness. It seems old. It seems tired. It seems pointless. And given the number and severity of the challenges facing this nation right now, one would think that more people would have a more serious sense of perspective. Of course, people are not obligated to support the new president. Obama has to earn this support. And some people's support can never be earned. But to take these kinds of potshots on this particular day is just as unattractive and stupid as the liberals who were booing the outgoing president before an international audience this morning.

This kind of bankrupt criticism is particularly dangerous for Republicans because the only way they can regain their political competitiveness is by offering constructive solutions to our nation's challenges. President Obama is the face of America and the Democratic Party, not the knuckleheads who were booing Bush at the inaugural ceremony. But the Republicans have no clear leader right now. Republican politicians would be wise not to travel down the same path that these hardcore nonpersuadables seem to be taking because it offers absolutely nothing.

"Change" won the election, and Obama has an 83% approval rating. Obama was careful to mention that "change" did not apply solely to government policies and politicians--it applied to voters as well. It would be a shame if partisan Democrats and hardcore Republicans ignored this message by continuing the same sad story by focusing on the same stupid stuff in the same stupid way.

8 comment(s):

DB said...

To be honest, the people who booed Bush and those who are trashing Obama over the oath are, from what I can tell, in the minority of people. Unfortunately, individuals too often over power the majority.

S.W. Anderson said...

I'm torn on the booing. Usually, I deplore that kind of thing as immature and foolish, telling more about the people who do it than whatever those people are protesting about.

However, where Bush and Cheney are concerned, I can begin to understand and sympathize. That's because they and their administration went to outlandish lengths to avoid contact with anyone who might disagree with them, their policies and their ways.

Things like having a middle-aged woman, a teacher, removed from a Bush appearance because she wore a T-shirt with the words, "Support Public Schools" printed on it. Things like seeing to it that for the '04 inauguration, protesters were consigned to cattle pens so far removed from anywhere Bush was going to be that there was no chance he would see or hear them. Things like doing his long, arduous 2005 tour trying to privatize Social Security, speaking only to audiences of carefully selected Republican voters wherever he went.

From day 1 of their administration, Bush and Cheney were the most secretive and aloof president and vice president in U.S. history. They didn't want public input, feedback, questioning or criticism, and they avoided it like the plague.

So, on the final day, when confronted by an unappreciative public, they were subjected to some long pent-up resentment.

Yes, it was unseemly. But it was also overdue and mild when one considers how thoroughly bad a job Bush and Cheney did. For eight years they couldn't stand the heat, but wouldn't leave the kitchen. Tuesday, no longer in control of their situation for a couple of hours, they finally got some.

Anonymous said...

Some things will simply never change.

Anonymous said...

And if people can get this through their thick heads....

Whatever one side accuses the other of... that side has done the same...

Clinton was booed when he left by the crowd. Its only fitting.

When the Republicans are accused of pandering the fabulously wealthy. Democrats pander to the fabulously famous. (Which is the same thing in my book)

King Politics said...

To echo S.W.'s comments, Bush & Cheney gave the public very few opportunities to address them. Nonetheless, it is disrespectful. In reality, Americans showed their disapproval of Bush in the '06 and '08 elections.

Matthew Nuckolls said...

Given that the Republican Party has spent the past year or so distancing themselves from Bush, I don't believe that anyone within the party has any grounds to conflate booing Bush with booing the party.

Somebody got booed. Somebody else flubbed a line. Somebody didn't touch the magic words while reciting a line, somebody is angry about it. Business as usual, all. Democracy is inherently messy.

Anthony Palmer said...

In retrospect, I'm conflicted on the booing, especially after reading SWA's post. Bush did go to great lengths to avoid being confronted by criticism. So a lot of the anger voters felt towards him was pent up and they viewed his goodbye as their only chance to get it out. Still, I think it detracted from the inauguration and seemed to contradict the tone Obama wanted to set.

I did not watch Bush's inauguration, so I don't know if people were booing Clinton or not. But I do believe hyperpartisanship was ushered in during his administration. I'm not saying Clinton is responsible for it, but I am saying that the 80s did not seem as politically divided as the 90s were with the Gingrich Revolution. I don't know.

John said...

From the facebook comment I made on 1/21:

I was just about to ask you if you'd heard about the booing. That was very disheartening to me. And I'm afraid to think about what that says about those who were gathered there.

I can't even imagine myself doing something so crass. Do civility and class mean nothing in 21st century America? ( I suppose a quick scan through the TV channels would answer that question.) Are we getting old, Mr. Palmer? Is the social zeitgeist moving in what WE consider to be appropriate behavior? In Victorian times, the appropriate term to refer to chicken breast was "white meat". And thighs were, of course, "dark meat". The Victorian idea of decency wouldn't allow them to use the words "breast" and "thigh". And I'm sure they would be appalled at our usage of the words, and of the "breast cancer awareness" logos emblazoned on every product at the grocery store. Is this example a difference of kind or of degree (in relation to the booing)?

I can't even fathom how an *adult* American citizen could think that it's OK to boo the outgoing president, even if you didn't like him. That's what's making this so difficult for me. Would they do the same at a company banquet when an unpopular executive was introduced? Maybe it was the anonymity of being so far away from the podium. I fear that quite a few of them probably would have booed even if he was right in front of them. And what would THAT say? Self-control and emotional reservation ARE in order in certain situations, right? And if our answer is yes... then I guess we have to ask why?

In other words, I am disgusted by the booing incident, but I'm aware that some of my own behaviors might be looked down upon by people who were alive 200 years ago. So is this kind of behavior becoming acceptable? Should it?

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