Dear President Obama,
One incident is just that, an isolated incident. Two incidents is perhaps a coincidence. Three makes a pattern. I’m writing this before you have the third incident. I want to help stop you before you establish a pattern you don’t want to establish.
Last week at a DNC fundraiser in Miami, you made some remarks that at first blush tickled me a bit until I gave it more thought.
I’ve been a little amused over the past couple of days where people have been having these rallies about taxes, taxes you would think they would be saying “thank you”. That’s what you’d think.
There are two problems with this statement, Mr. President. The first is that people protesting should not “amuse” you. It’s a choice of words that sounds terribly condescending. But there is a bigger problem. The “they” in “you would think they would be saying thank you” isn’t Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. The “they” are ordinary citizens who are struggling (many of them) to make ends meet. Did they get a federal income tax decrease? Damn straight they did. Do they look foolish protesting taxes generically when they should be protesting specific tax issues (perhaps at a state or local level)? Absolutely. But “they” are still your people. They are the citizens of this country, not elected officials, not megaphones like Palin or Limbaugh. They’re ordinary folks. When you speak of them in a demeaning way, you send the message that you are more the President of some than of others. A very bad message to send, indeed. You could have said, in a most humble manner, “I really don’t understand why they are protesting.” Instead, you gave the common man a kick in the ass, intentionally or not. Those who have defended you on this say you were talking to a particular audience. You know in the age of YouTube and 24/7 news, that is total nonsense. You are always talking to everyone, never just to the audience assembled at a particular rally.
Had this been isolated, I could let it pass. But then this past week while campaigning in California for Barbara Boxer, you got into a tiff with some LGBT protesters who heckled your speech. At about the 2:15 mark in the following video, the heckling began and your reaction was reasonable enough, telling your hecklers that you and Boxer support the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Then at the 5:24 mark things go off the rails once again. In response to a second round of heckling, you say to the protester “I’m sorry, do you want to come up here?”
Oh no you didn’t!
Did you challenge a protester to come up on the stage? What were you going to do, sock him in the jaw? Mr. Obama, you are the President of the United States of America. You are not some local pol on the south side of Chicago talking tough with the crowd. You know full well if the dude took you up on your offer, Secret Service would have pummeled him. You did not come across as wanting a dialogue with the man. You came up a bully, basically saying “I am the President, I DARE you to come up here and challenge me.” It was unbecoming to say the least.
Mr. President, I voted for you. I support your programs and I like you as a person. I have caught a lot of heat on this very blog for my support of you. I must tell you, friends don’t let friends drive drunk so I have to deliver some frank advice to you. I am no psychologist but I fear that your victory on health care reform has over-emboldened you. It has played games with your prick-o-meter. You see, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have permanent damage to their prick-o-meter. They are beyond the point of being able to recalibrate it. (And yes, women can be pricks too.) You, on the other hand, can take a step back and get a tune-up.
There is an important distinction that you may have lost sight of and it may lose you a second term if you do not take note. For the politician or political pundit, you have free rein. Go for it. Be as sarcastic as you want to be. They dish it out and you are completely within your rights to dish it right back. When it comes to private citizens, even those who gather in public forums, you must bend over backward to show respect. Yes, even when they act like total asses, you must show respect. Because, as President, they are YOUR asses. You are their President. You can be respectful without being patronizing. You can be respectful and still disagree with them. But you must show respect. Your enemies are looking for you to condescend and disparage. You must not give them that advantage.
Mr. President, for many years I worked for a large corporation and I can pin point the exact day when that company transformed from being special to just being another company that didn’t really care about its employees. On that day, the CEO was caught off the record blaming the sales force for the company’s ills. It was unprecedented. Executives at this company always took the heat when things went wrong and worked with the employees to change things. Never had a CEO betrayed his workers and blamed them for the company’s problems. When you play rough with the average citizen, you remind me of that CEO. It was his undoing. I don’t want it to be yours. You’ve gone down that road twice. Let’s not make it a pattern.