The System We Have

If you haven’t read Elias Isquith’s post on respect and the presidency, it’s well worth your time.

The Economist also had a good piece on the subject:

The beautiful idiocy of Cartman’s demand to “respect mah authoritah!” is that he deserves none; he’s just a self-appointed cop, and besides, he’s a foot and a half tall. But someone who wins a majority of votes in a democratic election is, in his capacity as an officeholder, entitled to respect. His actions in that office are the effectuation of the democratic will, and the office deserves more respect than, say, that of chief financial officer of Exampleco because the people voted to have him be the guy who exercises political power. If we don’t respect the offices to which we elect people, then we don’t respect ourselves as citizens. In parliamentary democracies, this sort of respect may be more vested in legislatures, parties and procedures. In our system, a lot of it ends up vested in the presidency. That may not be optimal, but we have to respect some instantiation of the national will, or democracy is pretty thin, bitter gruel.

So often, the response to this sort of thing is to compare the disrespecting of the last president or how the hecklers of this one demanded respect for the last one. Yeah, some people are hypocrites. Sometimes, the people you remember disrespecting the last guy aren’t those who are now suggesting the office be respected. I give Chait credit for being consistent. I have at least tried to be consistent in the opposite direction. I try not to even leave it at “Obama” except when I have previously referred to him as President Obama though I’m imperfect about that.

My reasoning is similar to Elias’s, and he states it better than I probably can.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Why not frame it as a politeness issue? Sensible people who are giving a presentation of their decision to do something ought to (usually) be heard out before objections or incisive questions are raised?

    It is possible that the president, qua president or qua duly-elected official, might deserve special respect or deference or honor, but I don’t think we have to go that far in this case.

  2. Politeness is a part of it, especially when it comes to heckling. But more broadly, I have less of a problem calling an opposing sports coach by a disrespectful name than a president (or even governor/senator) the same.

    • Not that I’ve really thought about it much before, but in theory at least, I would have more of a problem calling an opposing sports coach a disrespectful name I would an elected official.

      I don’t have an elaborate justification for this, just a sense that politicians in a sense sign up for being the object of public name calling in a way that sports coaches do not (however, if we’re talking about professional sports coaches, I would assume they sign up for being name called).

      • Same here. I don’t think it’s a good thing for a people to have to have too much reverence for their government, lest they give inappropriate deference to its decisions. Government is too powerful to be regarded with anything but suspicion.

        • I can call somebody Mister or use their given name as I investigate them.

      • If it makes you feel any better, Pierre, I’m not talking about little league coaches. The one I had in mind was at the college level. Probably the only coach I actually call by a disrespectful name, but dang if he didn’t earn it.

    • How, exactly, do you know that they’re liberals?

      • Mike:

        Given they were invited by Barry, I doubt they were Repubs. Maybe you can prove they were Repubs?

        • I have no idea. I do see, from the linked story, that the White House specifically criticized their behavior.

          • Mike:

            Of course the WH criticized them, given the WH knows the public won’t like this kind of disrespect. The WH couldn’t let the story continue without saying something. Who knows what folks at the WH really think, I’m sure some at the WH thought it was amusing. The point was to show liberal hypocrisy when they call for respect for Barry but do this kind of stuff.

          • Still not sure who “they” are other than people you disapprove of.

  3. Lincoln’s cabinet called him The Great Baboon. Here’s something which might enlighten you lot about the nature of authority. I learned drill instructing at the hands of a frightful old beast named Sergeant Major Willems, and this is what he said:

    When it comes to the enforcement of authority, it is all a question of Mind over Matter. I don’t mind and you don’t matter. So don’t you let a little outrage get in the way of instruction. You don’t mind and they don’t matter.

    Worked for Bush43. He escaped impeachment and though Scooter Libby went to jail for lying to the FBI, he didn’t mind and we didn’t matter. Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one. Obama doesn’t mind and your opinion doesn’t matter.

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