On Respecting the Presidency
Tibor R. Machan
After one member of Congress shouted out "liar" during President Obama’s speech to Congress the other evening, one of Mr. Obama’s cheerleaders at The New York Times intoned gravely that even if one disapproves of a given office holder, one ought to show respect for the office. Well, not really, not any more.
Suppose as a fan of the sport of baseball you have discovered that umpires across the country have become corrupt. They take payoffs, get sloppy with their calls, favor some players or teams based on personal prejudices and biases, etc. It is all over the place, you notice. Your child, however, is in Little League and the coach has invited a prominent umpire to give a talk at some celebration. Given the widespread corruption among umpires, you protest the invitation and when this is ignored by the powers that be, you go to the event and shout out or carry some kind of sign of protest. Those around you express dismay saying, well, yes, many, many umpires are admittedly corrupt, but the office of baseball umpire should still receive respect.
You then consider this and reply, well, the office may well be a good idea but when it is filled with crooks, respecting it is no longer possible or desirable. This reply holds in the case of politics, too.
In most countries it is pretty much a given that politicians are and have for centuries been corrupt. This is true even in so called civilized societies since politicians take bribes, payoffs, and favor special groups of citizens rather than the citizenry as a whole. Here and there one may find some poor, lone member of parliament who is doing his or her best to keep to the straight and narrow but then he or she is promptly defeated since what the public seems to want is not sticking up for principles but bringing home the bacon.
There used to be some hope for America’s politicians, albeit minimal, because they were working in a system the basic principles of which aimed at keeping power out of their hands, certainly the arbitrary type that guarantees corruption among them all. The U. S. Constitution, with its Bill of Rights and separation of branches, was intended to keep politicians and their power in check. Alas, this intention has been thoroughly subverted over time, if it ever had a chance in the first place. Even in the time of Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln and other luminaries, corruption was rampant, if only the kind that amounted to overstepping the authority of the office these individuals were holding.
Today the entire field of politics, no matter which party is running the show, amounts to nothing much better than an extortion racket. You vote for me and I will let you have some money, favors, whatever; if you don’t vote for me, don’t support my candidacy, I’ll show you who is boss. Wealth redistribution, the major task of national or local politicians–with armies of bureaucrats ready to do the detailed work–simply has no way of being done honorably. It is like asking bank robbers to be decent as they divvy up their loot; it cannot be done–that "honor among thieves" bit is an oxymoron from the get-go.
So don’t preach about respecting the presidency when the presidency has been in the hands of people who have used it mostly for larceny or worse. That presidency has long lost its claim on anyone’s respect. This is no less so than it would be with being a baseball umpire or football referee or judge at the Olympics if all those holding such offices caved in to the temptation to violate the principles of their office. That is exactly what the bulk of politicians across the country over the last several decades have done, yielded to the temptation to subvert their office in the name of various phony agendas, all of which masquerade as working for the public interest. If you buy that one, I have a bridge for sale for you at an excellent price!