Friday, November 07, 2008

Who's Your President?

ACCEPTANCE. One of the (several) controversies conservatives have been snarled up in since the election is the question of how we should regard the president-elect. As I predicted, there's been a lot of "making nice" by conservative pundits and bloggers, who want to note a great historical accomplishment and congratulate the winner while acknowledging their continued reservations about the policies to come. Since this has been beautifully epitomized and satirized by Iowahawk, I won't dwell on it here. There has also been a fair amount of the schizophrenic behavior I heard on Glen Beck's radio show yesterday, when he wound up literally screaming at a caller that if he didn't "accept Obama as our president," he was exactly like the wingnuts at the DailyKos who argued for eight years that Bush stole the presidency and had no legal right to the office. This from a guy who has consistently characterized the 2008 election as "1860, the brink of civil war."

What's going on here? Is there an issue at all? If there is, why? If not, why not? I, for example, am already on record as saying that "I refuse to accept a president who thinks our constitution is fatally flawed and who sees nothing wrong with choosing a black racist as a mentor or a murderous terrorist as a partner in a conspiracy to radicalize school children rather than teach them to read and write. " Does this make me "exactly like the wingnuts at DailyKos?"

I would say no. I don't dispute the legality of Obama's election, and I doubt most of the people who agree with my statement above would either. After he takes the oath of office, Barack Obama will be the President of the United States. I have lost none of my respect for the office, and as the current occupant of that office, he is entitled to the official respect that was always denied George W. Bush by his fanatical opponents. If I were overseas and heard him criticized by a foreigner, I would defend him because I'm an American citizen and that is part of my duty as a citizen, as I understand it.

However. As an American citizen, I also reserve the right to believe that Barack Obama is not my president. The prigs and the screamers on this point seem suddenly to be forgetting that there's more than one kind of contract in force here, and all of them involve complex and sometimes mutual responsibilities. The president has an express contract with the Constitution of the United States; he swears a solemn oath to defend and protect it.. He also has an understood contract with the the United States as a nation, that he will subordinate his own interests to the welfare of the nation as a whole, and will make whatever personal and political sacrifices may be necessary to keep it from harm. Finally, he has an implied contract with each and every citizen individually, that he will repay our respect for the office and his tenure in it by remembering that he works for us, all of us, not simply those who elected him.

Only the first of these contracts is a legal one. Once he takes the oath of office, he becomes President of the United States. The other two contracts are moral contracts, ideals of the grand American tradition. It is these unwritten contracts which determine whether we, as individual citizens of the United States, accept the legal president as "our" president. I do not. Glen Beck can scream all he wants, but he does not speak for me. He is a citizen. He has every right to give Obama a nod on all three contracts. But I'm a citizen too. I do not believe Obama is entering into any of the three contracts in good faith. I don't believe he intends to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States, but to engineer its rewriting from the bench. I do not believe he holds the interests of the United States as a nation above the interests of various constituencies and political factions around the globe. And I do not believe there is any definition under which he would repay my acceptance and respect by being my president as much as he intends to be the president of the aggrieved and vengeful.

It's not an emotional animus as much as an intellectual assessment. I don't believe him. I don't believe in him. Why must I nevertheless accept him in the monolithic terms scared conservatives seem to demand? I said I won't give him the benefit of the doubt. Why should I? In my opinion, he has to prove to me that he can be believed. It's not as if he is above me and can somehow command my private and personal allegiance. I don't work for him. He works for me. I don't think he understands even that much.

So my conclusion is that this particular controversy is not one conservatives should be yelling at each other about. If you don't feel he's your president, that's your business. It doesn't make you seditious, or the second coming of Bush Derangement Syndrome, or a flaming reactionary racist.

Let me elaborate on that last point. I have never doubted that an African-American could be elected president. I still believe it will happen one day, and I abide by my conviction that when it does happen it will be a Republican candidate who does it. I'm also not enough of a hypocrite to pretend great joy and other vaguely self-congratulatory emotions over the fact that a man whose personal history, associations, and political views I regard as disqualifying for the presidency has been elected to the position of Commander-in-Chief. There's no silver lining to this cloud. In my view, there's every likelihood he will be so bad a president that he will delay for a decade or more the election of the first African-American president. (If there's anything worse than a ringer, it's an incompetent ringer. Makes the whole team look bad.)

My last point on this subject concerns my grave disquietude about the meaning of the conservative rush to "make nice." I think everyone who does this betrays a naivete for which there is absolutely no justification. Do they really think that being gracious is going to slow down the juggernaut of a Democrat White House and congress? Fools. We are days, if not hours, away from an all-out declaration of war by Democrats on all things conservative and Republican. Taking time out to shake the right hand of the man who will immediately stab you with the dagger in his left is more than folly. It's contemptible.

Barack Obama is soon to be the nation's president. No argument on that point. He is not my president. No compromise on that one. It's not a distinction invented by the DailyKos. My dad never accepted FDR as his president, either, but it didn't stop him from defending the nation in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. All you snob media patriots, take note.

If you've got a problem with that, tell it to Glen Beck. He'll kiss you on both cheeks. If that's what sends a tingle up your leg.

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