The headline that caught my attention on Presidents Day could not have been starker, colder: “Intense Republican Hate Is Skewing Obama Polls.”
It’s ironic because only a few days before, a number of pollsters had shown the president actually doing better in the popularity contest, even reaching 50 percent approval. But as we all know, these numbers don’t really mean much, especially when he’s not running for reelection.
No, it was the hate part that stopped me in my tracks. How can one compare the evil in the world — Boko Haram, ISIS, the murdering of innocent women and children — with President Obama’s health care policy? Have we so cheapened the meaning of evil that we’ve forgotten that disagreement and debate are at the core of democracy? Are we teaching our children that if we don’t like a bill that’s passed, then we have the right to hate the people who voted for it?
Words have power. To hate the president of the United States is not just about Barack Obama; it’s about the rule of law, the system under which we live that allows us to live in harmony even and especially when we disagree. It’s easy to turn on a microphone and rant and rave about how you hate this one and that one, as if it’s mere fodder for humor. But democracy depends on trust — trust that we will play by the rules, win or lose.
Adults teach their children good sportsmanship: Shake hands; it’s a game. But the game we’re playing now is fueled by nuclear power and Islamist extremism, and to pretend that somehow our president is nothing more than one of those haters endangers not only the president, but all of us.
It’s not President Reagan we were celebrating on Monday, or President Kennedy or President Johnson or President Obama. We were celebrating a country that lives under the rule of law, follows decisions even if it disagrees with them and recognizes that some issues may not be resolved, but always maintains respect for the final judgment.
Who are these Obama “haters”? Who else do they teach their children to hate? What do they think their children understand when they hear such talk of hate? With so many dangers in the world, gratuitous viciousness not only increases the threat to our president, but to our society.
Many years ago, I was invited to serve on a panel for the presidency at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. I was the only Democrat. Tough spot. The first question out of the box for me was did I respect Ronald Reagan as a great president. My answer was simple: I disagreed with Reagan on many issues, but I respected him as a man of integrity and considered him to be my president. Most of the audience booed when I said that. Mrs. Reagan sent me flowers — a class act then, as always.
I’m sure there were instances in which my liberal friends loudly chanted their hatred for George W. Bush. It wasn’t right then, either. Maintaining a stable democracy may look easy, but when you look around the world, you realize just how difficult it is. It stands on the goodwill and decency of all of us who gathered Monday in support of all of our presidents.