Q&A: Do I have to respect the president?

Barack Obama – 44th President of the United States of America

I recently had a conversation with a good friend about the office of the president. I consider this friend a great patriot and so I was intrigued when he expressed to me how he has completely lost respect for President Obama. “Years ago,” he said, “presidents were respected. They were more noble, they were stately. You may not have liked their policies but you respected them because they honored the office they held. Now we have somehow elected a man who never even finished one term in the senate. I’m not going to respect a man just because he won a popularity contest.”

After expressing his feelings, he asked my opinion about whether we should be obligated to respect the president just because he’s the president. Well here it is:

The thing is, there are two different types of respect that we are talking about here. Respect for the person, and respect for the office. Though they are connected, they should also be considered separately.

First let’s talk about the Office of the President of the United States of America. As an American, I feel it to be my duty to hold that office in the highest regard. No matter who is in the White House, I will always stand when he/she walks in the room and I hope that the band will never stop playing “Hail to the Chief.” No matter who is in office, no matter what the circumstance, if I was directed by the President to serve in the armed forces, I would. Because the Office of the Presidency is more than a person, it’s a symbol of the executive authority set up by our Founding Fathers in our Constitution, and I believe in the Constitution. That is how I respect the Office of the Presidency.

Respecting the person is a whole different story. I just deleted a long paragraph about why I don’t respect President Obama as a person, because though it is relevant to the conversation, I felt it distracted from the main point in my response. It will suffice for me to say, that I, like my friend, have little respect for Barack Obama, the person. I don’t like his policy ideas, I don’t like how he conducts himself, and I don’t like his attitude. To be fair, some of those things are probably compounded. You know, like when someone starts to really get on your nerves and then all of a sudden everything they do seems to be the most annoying thing in the world? Yeah, I’m kind of at that point with the President, but I try to keep myself in check.

But so what now? He’s the president right? Aren’t I obligated as a true patriot to respect him as the President of the United States and the Commander-in-Chief? I can remember in high school how annoyed I would get when kids, who knew nothing about politics, would constantly bad mouth Bush. I would say to them something like, “Come on guys, he’s still the president and we have to respect that.” Am I now a hypocrite every time I criticize the president? Well, it all depends on how I do it.

The thing is, one of the greatest things about being an American is our right to speak ill of our government leaders. We won’t go to jail for speaking against our government leaders as long as there is no actual threat of personal harm. A few months ago, I was on Twitter and the Official White House twitter account tweeted something about what a great job the President was doing at restoring the economy. I did not entirely agree and so I responded with some pretty sharp words. Think about that for a second. I sent a message to the White House telling them how I disapproved of their work. I dare you to try that with the Kremlin in Russia or the Imperial Palace in China, it just won’t work. I, as a citizen of the United States, have the right to speak my mind even if that means verbally attacking the man who holds the highest office in the land. I have that right, and I’m going to exercise it.

But at what point to we cross the line between disrespecting the person and disrespecting the office. Well, the line is quite blurred (welcome to politics). Some may say, well, you only have the right to speak against his policies, but no personal attacks. In general I agree with this statement. In fact, it’s one that I try to live by. But what about this, what if the president, by his personal actions, not connected with policy decisions, does something himself to disrespect the Office of the Presidency? There have been things which President Obama has done that I feel have been below the conduct required by the Office of the Presidency. It’s at this point where we have to ask ourselves again if it’s okay to attack the president’s personal actions. Because I respect the Office of the Presidency, I feel justified in criticizing anyone who shows that office disrespect, even if it’s the president himself.

Does that mean I should be morally allowed to point out every personal flaw that the president has? No. If I’m going to attack the president’s character, I should have a pretty good reason. Because he holds the office, he is entitled to, at the very least, informed criticism, as opposed to ignorant criticism. So going back to the kids in my high school, they, in general, did not know what was going on in politics. If you asked them, “Well, what has Bush done to disrespect the Office of the Presidency?” they probably wouldn’t be able to give a intelligent response.

I’m not going to lie; I at times have been guilty of unfounded personal attacks against the president. I realize my mistake and I am trying to do better to always respect the Office of the President.

So, in response to my friend who asked the question, “Do I have to respect a junior senator who went on to win a popularity contest to become the president?” I, in short, say, the beauty of this country is that anyone can lift themselves up from any circumstance to be elected president through this grand democracy that we have. So we probably shouldn’t use that as our main reason for not respecting the president. We may not like the guy, but as president he at least deserves personal criticism that is founded on something, and believe me, there’s plenty of that to go around.

EDIT 7/17/2012: Thanks to the comments that have so far been left on this post, I realize that I have left off a major point that must be brought up during any discussion of respect. The thing is, no matter what position or amount of success a person has obtained in life, there is always a certain amount of respect that should be given simply because they are a person. As Americans, we have the right to criticize our leaders, but we must always act in a civil manner. Even if we have legitimate cause to call into question the president’s character, we can and should still be civil. Because, at the end of the day, the president is still a person, and frankly speaking, a child of God. I have made the mistake before of crossing the line into giving unnecessarily harsh criticism and I have been rightly called out on it. Stay above the filth, stay civil, and you’ll find that not only will you be respected more, but your message will reach even more minds and hearts.

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7 thoughts on “Q&A: Do I have to respect the president?

  1. I love politics, but I find the political sphere frustrating. We go after religion, race, gender, economic status, and education with a disturbing amount of disrespect and we justify it in the name of partisanship. No matter what political ideology you subscribe to, it is possible to disagree with a candidate’s policy, propaganda, and/or personal life without forgetting civility completely. We show the President respect in two ways: by showing deference to his privileged position, and by recognizing the worth of a person. Our voice ceases to be effective and our message is lost when we assume that anyone whose opinion differs from ours is worth less than ourselves.

    • Cate, I strongly agree with your comments. I think that what we need more in these political debates is civility. I have one more thing to add though, and I’m not sure if you had this in mind, but I’ll mention it anyway. It is generally easy to simply go along with the president when you adhere to the same political principles as he does. That’s how I felt with Bush. But with Obama it’s much harder for me to do that. Why? Because he and I look at problems very differently. I join many others in the opinion that his policies are leading the country down the wrong path. But since he’s the president, does that mean that I should simply shut up, salute, and go along with it? Of course not. I have a right to speak up against what I feel to be injustices and I feel it is my duty to help people realize what’s really going on, from my point of view. Of course this can always be done in a civil way, and I try to do that. The most unfortunate part about all of this, is that it is popular to be extreme, to take attacks to the limits. It’s those kinds of things that get you listeners on the radio and followers on twitter. That kind of extremism is damaging to the political system and we should all try to be a little more civil in our discussions of government.

  2. I’m not advocating that anyone shut up, salute, and go along with policy they don’t agree with, I wholeheartedly support the right to free speech. But I don’t think standing up for what you believe in and being respectful are mutually exclusive, and the Church is a great example of that.

  3. Thanks for writing this Bryan. It gave me a lot of good ideas. Like you mentioned in your addendum, I think civility is what’s most important. Respect is earned, but I think that we all need to be civil in our discourse. I think the ideal political situation is when people from all parts of society with varying priorities come together and talk and debate and work out the problems facing their society. While I’m not obligated force myself to have respectful feelings for an individual’s ideas and performance, the morally right thing to do is to remain civil in the conversation.

  4. I so appreciate your site I am so tired of the continued disrespect that our country has towards the President.WE AS A NATION MUST HAVE FORGOTTEN WHERE WE STARTED THIS IS THE TYPE OF NEGATIVITY THAT WE AS A NATION DO NOT NEED so again thank you very much!!

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