Last week, Jimmy Carter drew fire from the right over statements that the more viruluent strains of criticism toward Barack Obama were based in latent racism. He was particularly critical of Joe Wilson's "You lie" outburst, and of email strings that continue to be circulated by conservative interest groups that compare Obama to, alternately, an animal and Adolf Hitler. Since I have the misfortune of having a new boss who is fascinated with conservative talk programming, I am force fed Fox News Network and Rush Limbaugh in stereo most days. Somehow, by the time those talking heads finished spinning their revisions of his comments, Carter had said that any disagreement with the President's policies equated to racism. The network even trotted out their usual stable of conservative minority commentators who, to a one, denounced the former President as an unrealistic apologist, wallowing in white guilt.
But was Carter really off the mark? It used to be that a certain level of formal respect was afforded the office of the Presidency, period. There was a sacred and inviolable decorum required of and around our highest levels of government, period. Opponents may not have agreed with the decisions made, may not have even respected the man himself, but one of our country's strengths has traditionally been our ability to debate our differences and then respect the decisions made by the majority of our countryment. Our government has always been one built on civil discourse and compromise. That's why the level of disdain shown our President over the past couple of months has been both unprecedented and unconscionable.
Granted, many of the issues that have been debated recently have been the most divisive in my personal memory. The country faces deep philosophical rifts in many areas, not the least of which is health care. But when the President WE elected to office not nine months ago is blocked from speaking to school children about such an innocuous topic as responsible behavior, ostensibly because certain groups don't want to risk politicizing the schools; when an elected Congressman feels justified in calling the President a liar in a joint session of Congress ostensibly because he passionately disagrees with what is being said, WE have a serious problem the root cause of which no one besides Jimmy Carter seems to want to admit. What other President has ever been blocked from speaking to school children as if he were some common pedophiliac who couldn't be trusted alone with our children? What other President has been called a liar in a joint session of Congress, in front of a national television audience? What else has changed? What other conclusion can be drawn? That these public displays of utter disrespect are somehow justified because the country is facing more challenges than ever before? Please, refer to the Great Depression and World War II See also Vietnam and energy crisis of the 1970's. More likely, it is the 2 ton elephant of a racially divided past that we're still not ready to honestly confront. That elephant may be covered in a cloak of policy disagreement, but it's still a big damn elephant.