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Disrespecting the president

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Esther Cepeda
January 30, 2012
— It is a stain on our nation’s character when even our representatives and heroes can’t suck it up and muster a modicum of respect for our president.

Last Wednesday afternoon, during what’s been described as a tense conversation, cameras caught Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer poking her finger at President Obama’s face.


The controversial governor said she meant no disrespect during their animated exchange. It apparently got heated when Obama told Brewer he didn’t appreciate the way she portrayed an Oval Office meeting in her new book, in which she wrote that he was condescending to her.


“I respect the office of the president,” she told reporters, though feeling condescended to implies that Brewer believes she and the president are equals. “Well, I would never have walked away from anybody having a conversation. … It is disrespectful for me,” Brewer noted defensively.


Yes, Obama should have been diplomatic enough to not walk away from someone, even an inferior, during a conversation. But although these days CEOs, and others in power, are expected to be nice and empathetic, dress down on casual Friday, and pretend they value every subordinate’s opinion equally, there are hierarchies. None so important as that between the president of the United States and everyone in this country who is not.


You may be of the opinion, as I am, that President Obama hasn’t lived up to the promise of Candidate Obama. Or you may be way on the other end of the spectrum and believe his leadership is damaging the country through either ineptitude or malice. But he’s still our president, and he deserves every ounce of respect as long as he remains so. He doesn’t get it, though.


Who can forget instances of disrespect such as Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouting “You lie!” at the president during a speech back in 2009? Or the anger of protesters who brandished guns and wielded signs calling for “Death to Obama” at rallies. Last March, a constituent flat-out asked Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., “Who’s going to shoot Obama?” during a town hall meeting.


The Monday before the Brewer incident, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas refused to participate in a White House ceremony to celebrate the team’s Stanley Cup championship because of his opposition to a government that “has grown out of control,” though he later claimed his protest wasn’t about “politics or party.”


Brewer obviously doesn’t understand that you cannot be respectful to your superior while irately pointing a finger in his face. And while it may be impolite, a chief has the latitude to simply walk away from an underling who has stopped communicating productively.


You can point to racism, economic frustration or unprecedented partisanship, but there is no denying that this particular president has not been given the esteem, honor or sense of worthiness that has historically been unquestioningly extended to the president of the United States.


Brewer said she “felt a little bit threatened” by the president’s slight. It’s obvious that too many people find it galling and down-right impossible to defer to, much less respect, our prickly, professorial president.


But until he leaves office, he deserves nothing less than everyone’s very best behavior.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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