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Post Leadership
Posted at 04:43 PM ET, 01/24/2012

State of the Union boycott misses the mark


(Ricky Carioti - THE WASHINGTON POST)
When Barack Obama gives his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, at least one congressman will be missing. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, is planning to boycott the high-profile presidential event. The Colorado Springs -based lawmaker “respects the President personally, and the office of the President”, his office said, but he “is doing this to send a clear message that he does not support the policies of Barack Obama.”

This is hardly the first time the opposing party has voiced their dissent during major speeches in Obama’s tenure. A handful of lawmakers skipped the president’s joint sessions of Congress jobs speech back in September. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) tweeted during last year’s State of the Union speech that the president believes in “socialism.” And who can forget Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.)’s outburst in September 2009, when he shouted “You lie!” in the midst of the president’s speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Lamborn, it should be noted, found out last week that he would have a primary challenger in the next election, a rare circumstance for an incumbent. Who knows whether this stunt and his reelection campaign are connected, but it’s clear—both from his actions and his words—that he’s trying to send an incontrovertible message that he is against the president and what he stands for.

He doesn’t really need to show off his conservative bona fides or prove his distaste for the president. This is the same lawmaker, after all, who was named the “most conservative” member of Congress by the National Journal in 2010. He’s also the same guy who called the president a “tar baby” before apologizing for what some saw as a racially tinged remark.

I’m all for free speech. But I find it hard to believe that this is the best way for Lamborn to express how he feels about President Obama. He could choose not to clap. He could opt not to stand. He could bury his head in his Blackberry and send tweets to his constituents.

Leaders are frequently called upon to attend events or do parts of their job that may rub them the wrong way. But it’s part of their responsibility, as is working to create an environment in Washington that is conducive to some passable level of functioning. Lamborn may be getting his message across that he doesn’t agree with the president. But he’s also sending the message that he doesn’t care much about improving the atmosphere in which he works.

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