Stillwater News Press

Local Columnists

February 15, 2014

DANNY ADKISON: When nothing is something

STILLWATER, Okla. — “Helps ducks.” “Give people clothes.” “Help a lost puppy.” “Help us build houses.” “Save eagles.” “Help boaters not crash.” These are actual responses when first-graders were asked, “What should a president of the United States do?” On first glance, they appear silly. On closer inspection, most of these aren’t too far from being true. They are, though, without a doubt, innocent. It makes you wonder what happened to some who became adults during the Obama administration?

One reason people have such respect for whomever is president is the early perceptions children have of the president. The first politician children recognize is not the local mayor or state governor — nope, it is the president of the United States. A teacher probably told you the story about how President Washington could not tell a lie when asked by his father if he chopped down the cherry tree. Parson Mason Weems invented that story to liven up his biography of Washington. Plato might call it a noble lie since Washington was an honest man.

Americans can even be physiologically affected by what happens to presidents. It’s true. Right after the assassination of President Kennedy, the number of people reporting physical ailments in doctors’ offices rose dramatically in the days following.

It seems some people missed the “presidential respect” lesson. First, there was the shouting of “You lie!” during President Obama’s State of the Union address. That happened during his speech, and it wasn’t from some public guests invited to the event or protesters who happened to sneak in.  No, it was Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina. Then during another State of the Union address, President Obama commented on a Supreme Court case (the infamous Citizens United case) and the camera showed Justice Alito saying, “Not true.” Justice Alito might not have known the camera would be on him when he reacted. That probably wouldn’t happen today. That’s because the trend is for Supreme Court justices to be “no shows” when it comes to State of the Union addresses.

One of the most embarrassing and disrespectful events occurred recently at a town meeting with a U.S. Congressman. The Congressman was Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a Republican representing the First Congressional District in Oklahoma. Here is what happened.

Bridenstine was leading the discussion before a group of constituents when he called upon a woman in attendance. She said, “I want to ask you about Obama.” Notice, the lack of respect is already apparent. The woman doesn’t refer to Obama as “President,” just Obama. That would be disrespectful itself, even if she had followed with some question about Medicare, or immigration policy, or changing the minimum wage, but forget about that. She said she had a question, but what she really had was a vitriolic comment.

“He’s not president as far as I’m concerned. He should be executed as an enemy combatant, really. But the Muslims that he is shipping into our country through pilots in commercial jets. What ... I can’t tell you, I can’t say because we’re in a public place that this guy is a criminal.”

Thank goodness the woman held back. Of course, being in a public gathering didn’t stop her from calling the president a criminal, enemy combatant. Neither did she hesitate saying these things in front of a U.S. Congressman. Bridenstine’s reaction, following this outrageous statement was, “Look, everybody knows the lawlessness of this president.”  Then, when there was only time for one more question, the next woman called on responded, “The only way I see out of this is to overwhelmingly change the Senate, so that we can impeach the S.O.B.”

After this event, Bridenstine’s office issued a clarification and apparent explanation of the Congressman’s reaction. Here it is:  “A public figure cannot control what people say in open meetings. I obviously did not condone and I do not approve of grossly inappropriate language.”

Dr. Danny M. Adkison teaches constitutional law at Oklahoma State University.

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