After a summer full of town hall yelling and assault rifle protests, last night we finally reached the point where an elected representative decided to act like a five year old who can’t find a toy. As you likely know,
Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina made an excited utterance during President Obama’s speech last night. He apologized, and President Obama accepted.
Looking through the commentary, most bemoan a declining civility in public life. Some are more interesting, like a reminder of today’s Morning Psalter, 1 Peter 4:8-11, over at Vox Nova. Others, with a sense of history, have pointed out Preston Brooks, another South Carolinian who beat a fellow Senator with a cane inside the Senate chamber.
The problem, I think, is that we have fused the individual with the office. For instance, earlier this week President Obama gave a speech designed for schoolchildren. Some people demanded an alternative to listening to the speech, fearing socialist indoctrination. A great response was provided by two Forbes columnists. Despite disagreeing on policy, they liked the idea and the speech. As they wrote, “Personally, we believe that our children should learn to respect and honor the Office of the President of the United States of America–no matter who sits in that office or what their politics are.”
During my undergraduate days, I had a conversation with a conservative, not too fond of President Clinton at the time. There was some talk around campus about verbally disrupting a Presidential appearance. He was unhappy at the idea of disruption. Maybe before, maybe after, but during would be wrong. The fact that he led us meant he deserved respect, despite his seemingly wrong policies.
That was very good counsel, which I remembered through the years of George W. Bush. If I had the opportunity to meet him in person, I would do so. I would greet him politely. If he asked me to help the nation, I would. Even an sketchy-serving drunk driving idiot deserves that, not because of him, because of the office.
And I’m reminded of the Medal of Honor. As the highest award available for American military service, any recipient deserves respect. Military conduct strongly suggests that a recipient be saluted first, regardless of rank. This poses a quandary, because a higher ranking militarist should not salute someone lower. How does this get solved? Technically, the general or whoever does not salute the person; he or she salutes the medal.
That’s the proper solution; no matter the person, the rank is still there. I have respected the Office of the President, and will respect it in the future. Even if it was someone reprehensible. Since Representative Wilson served in the Army National Guard, one would think he knew about decorum. Maybe that just got lost, like a toy.