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Post Partisan
Posted at 10:08 AM ET, 09/01/2011

Obama’s fight — for respect


Yeah, yeah. In the grand scheme of things, the kerfuffle over the timing of President Obama’s jobs speech before a joint session of Congress is the perfect slow-news-day story that has little resonance outside the confines of the Washington Beltway. It’s the kind of thing news and political junkies chew over when there’s nothing else to do during summer’s last gasp.

Still, the hard-core move by Obama to address the nation before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 7 — the same night as a Republican presidential debate — resonated with me and more than a few others around the country because of what it symbolized. A willingness by the president to fight. But when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued his honey-coated push back over the date, I and others said (ok, demanded) the president should deliver his speech on the day of his choosing. For me, this was not a demand rooted in politics. It was rooted in weariness at the ongoing lack of respect for the presidency and this president.

As Jim Downie pointed out in his excellent post last night, Boehner’s rejection of Obama’s joint-session request is unprecedented. Mind you, this isn’t the first time this speaker thumbed his nose at this president. During one of the most dramatic moments of the debt-ceiling talks, Obama called Boehner twice to follow up on a conversation about additional revenue in the grand bargain they’d been negotiating in secret. He was told the speaker was unavailable. And then there was Boehner’s offensive response on “Meet The Press” to questions about the persistent lie that Obama was a closet Muslim who wasn’t born in the United States. “As the speaker of the House, as the leader,” he was asked by moderator David Gregory, “Do you not think it’s your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?”

It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.

When George W. Bush was president, harsh things were said all the time by congressional Democrats and their leaders. Some even crossed the line.Yet, while there was disdain for the man in the Oval Office, respect for the office itself was never in doubt. I seriously worry that it’s in doubt now among some Republicans. Each petty slight by Boehner is one more chip away at respect for the presidency.

In Obama, we have a president more grounded and comfortable in his own skin than many of the people he has to work with to govern this country. He’s bigger than most of us. So the petty slights that get a lot of us riled up probably don’t register to him. He’s a thinker and plotter with his eyes on the prize down the road, not the daily hysteria taking place on the road to get there. That’s why I’m praying that when the real fight comes, the president will show Republicans — and the American people — that he’s not the pushover they believe him to be.

By  |  10:08 AM ET, 09/01/2011

 
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