Sunday, January 29, 2012

Respect Yourself

George Reedy was a former press secretary and political writer who served under Lyndon Johnson. Probably more intellectual than most Presidential Press Secretaries, and sometimes thought of as a Johnson whipping boy, Reedy was nevertheless a keen observer of the White House and the institution of the Presidency.

In writing about the bitterly fought 1964 campaign between Johnson and Barry Goldwater, Reedy noted how the respect for the office of the Presidency was quickly restored after the heat of the campaign ended with the final results. You might recall that Johnson was running for his first elected term after finishing out JFK's term. This was the campaign that featured the infamous "Daisy" political add where a child's game of "loves me, loves me not" was superimposed over an exploding mushroom cloud. In the end, despite the taunts, insults, and fear mongering, Johnson won a landslide victory.
George Reedy once noted that the day after the election, when the President met with Congressional leaders, Goldwater, then Senator from Arizona, was there beaming with the rest of them. It was Mr. President this and Mr. President that. he concluded that despite the bitter campaign, the respect for the office of the President was intact. That the leaders in Congress, especially those in the losing opposition party, never lost respect for the President.
My how things have changed. As the nation debates the recent finger in the face of President Obama by the Governor of Arizona, we might do well to pause and ask where that respect for the office has gone. I'm not really all that surprised, are you? Culturally, we are more polarized than ever and many of the once taboo restrictions on language in thought and action are gone. I've real all manner of reactions to the finger pointing incident and I must say the best appears here:
Yes, we have lost a good deal of civility. That fact stands in line with the overall malaise that sensitivity and appropriate behavior are slogging through right now. Listen to me, I sound like Ms. Manners here, but some things are painfully obvious.

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