The Conditional Sanctity of the Office of the President

by Jeff Schweitzer Scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology 29.01.2015

Hypocrisy is nothing new to either side of the aisle. Short memories and expediency allow for feigned outrage against the latest policy that was, just a short time ago, righteously and patriotically advanced as vital to America's future, depending on who is in and out of power. Such blind partisanship is par for the course for Democrats and Republicans. To catch our attention, then, we must indeed pass a high threshold of double standard to rise above the cesspool stench of national politics.

Somehow the GOP has risen to the challenge. Exhibit A is House Speaker Boehner's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak to Congress as an end-run around the White House policy on Iran sanctions, but we'll get to that a bit later.

When a Republican sits in the Oval Office, nothing gets the blue blood of patriotism pumping faster than an affront to the president. With chests puffed up and flags waving, patriots tell us that the dignity of the office demands respect. During the Bush years of endless war, we cannot forget that any criticism of White House policy was a win for the terrorists. Is your memory of the "treason card" a little vague? Let me refresh as a means of putting Boehner's disrespect in perspective.

Commander in Chief

The ubiquitous Bill O'Reilly said in 2004, and then often later, "You don't criticize the commander in chief in the middle of a firefight. That could be construed as putting U.S. forces in jeopardy and undermining morale."

That admonition seems to have vanished the moment Obama took office. Of our ongoing war on terror, O'Reilly said, "Ever since he was elected in 2008, President Obama's rhetoric has been soft on the Muslim threat." Being in the middle of a firefight no longer seems to matter, because Bill also said, "It is al-Qaeda versus us. We, the American people, we don't need to involve ourselves with Iraqi politics to defend ourselves against terrorists on the march." That war against terrorism on the march is no barrier to Bill, who claimed, "Obama is under siege. His poll numbers are declining rapidly. Almost everywhere you look there is chaos." Sounds much like criticizing the commander in chief in the middle of a firefight, something Bill said we should never do -- when a Republican is president.

Not only did Bill criticize the president in a way he said we never should, but he lied in the process about Obama's poll numbers. Here is the verifiable truth: From Jan. 1, 2014, to Oct. 30, 2014, Obama's approval rating fell from 42.6 percent to 42 percent. The year's peak was 44 percent, and the low of the year was 41 percent. A drop of about one half of 1 percent does not constitute numbers that are "plummeting" or "sinking" or even "dropping." But Bill said they were "declining rapidly," a lie that undermines all else that he said because he based his claims about chaos on that false claim of rapidly falling polls.

Tom Delay, former Speaker of the House, warned that Speaker Nancy Pelosi could be "successful in undermining the commander in chief" with the consequence that Democrats would be "emboldening the terrorists to kill more Americans in Iraq," all because Pelosi and her fellow Democrats had the audacity to question the president's policy in Iraq, as it was clearly falling apart.

Yet Tom "Gerrymander" Delay does not hesitate to undermine the commander in chief if he happens to be Obama. "But this president is violating his oath of office. He's abusing his power. The president of the United States, I don't know where he gets the notion that he can legislate, change legislation, decide what law he'll enforce and not enforce. This is all violating the Constitution of the United States and probably many statutes." Tough criticism of the commander in chief for someone who worried that any such criticism would lead to more American deaths. We are, after all, still fighting the war on terror.

When Sen. Dick Durbin was rude enough to question the policy of torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Karl Rove responded with the missive that "Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

But Karl, what about conservative motives? Here's Karl on Obama's foreign-policy speech at West Point in May 2014: "The president's speech today is going to further disappoint our allies. They're shaking their heads all over the world. And it's going to further embolden our adversaries. Putin is sitting in the Kremlin laughing." Somehow that does not put our troops in danger.

John Ashcroft was outraged when Democrats voiced some concerns about the Patriot Act. He lectured Democrats, "Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."

But Ashcroft miraculously recovered from patriotic fever in time to criticize Obama, an attack that somehow does not diminish our resolve as it did when we criticized Bush. Ashcroft, for example, takes issue with Obama's effort to close Guantanamo Bay, saying, "The idea somehow there is something evil about Guantanamo, I think it is a bankrupt idea." Calling Obama's policy bankrupt is no problem, giving no comfort to our enemies.

Office of the President

Hypocritical attacks on Obama are not confined to criticisms of him as the commander-in-chief. We should not forget that a low-level Representative cried out "You lie!" during Obama's 2009 State of the Union address when he discussed healthcare reform. Fortunately, leaders of both parties condemned the outburst. But consider the culture and history of personal attacks on Obama that made such outrageous public disrespect possible. Those attacks have been as relentless as they have been vicious.

Sarah Palin routinely questioned and still questions Obama's patriotism. A typical missive about Obama: "This is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country." But she does not stop there. She said on Fox News, "When I hear Barack Obama speak at this point ... it is nauseating to me." Can you get more discourteous of a president? Imagine the outcry if a prominent Democrat said those words of a Republican president. Would we not hear that such comments are shameful, unpatriotic, America-hating, and disrespectful to the office of the president? Yet we hear nothing from conservatives.

Michele Bachmann lamented Obama's embrace of an "agenda of Islamic jihad." Imagine the outrage if that were said of a Republican president. Of course we have the inevitable comparison to Hitler, the most recent from Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas). Again, imagine the outrage if reversed. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I need not cite references for all the accusations that Obama is a secret Muslim, or a non-citizen, or a radical Christian who hates America. The overall theme is that Obama is a traitor who deliberately wants to put our troops in harm's way. Compare this to the viscous GOP attack on any dissent when Bush was the commander-in-chief.

How about these sentiments, collated by Geoffrey Stone in an article tracking the extreme nature of vile attacks on the president:

• "Dump This Turd" (with image of Obama)
• "Somewhere in Kenya A Village is Missing Its Idiot"
• "Pure Evil" (with image of Obama)
• "I'm Not Racist: I Hate his White Half Too" (with image of Obama)

Here are some others I have seen (I do live in Texas) or that have been brought to myattention:

• "Obama is a lying, racist, American-hating socialist"
• "Obama, Kenya believe him"
• "B.O. Stinks"
• "Dinglebarry" (with image of Obama)
• "Obama: One Big Ass Mistake America"
• "Obama Bin Lyin'"
• "2012: Don't Re-Nig"
• "Two Things Coal and Barak Obama Have in Common: 1) There both Black [sic]; and 2) Americans should BURN BOTH" (it should be apparent that grammar is not a strong suit of the stupid)
• "Vote the right guy, the white guy"
• "Chairman Oba-Mao"
• "It's True, I Do Hate America" (with image of Obama)
• "Barak Obama the Antichrist"
• "Obama makes me throw up in my mouth"
• "Obama Hates America"

Clearly, conservatives no longer believe in the dignity of the Oval Office -- that is, until a Republican next sits there. I challenge anybody to come up with attacks of similar nature against any other president. Yes, the left hated and still hates Bush, but I defy you to find equivalent levels of vile hatred thrown at a president. Bush was called stupid and inept (well...), but Obama's critics go way beyond this with a drumbeat of ugly attacks wholly unrelated to his actions as president, some of which are undeniably motivated by race. The only president who comes close to this level of vitriol is Abraham Lincoln, but the etiquette of the times prevented the use of words like "turd" to describe the president of the United States.

Sure, name calling by itself is harmless, and all of the above is happily protected by the American commitment to free speech. The point is not to claim that such speech causes any damage but to reveal a culture in which the office of the president deserves no respect, precisely the opposite of what conservatives claim when a Republican is in the White House. What this speech reveals is the deep, corrosive hypocrisy of the GOP and the conservative movement.

Separation of Powers

Which brings us to Speaker John Boehner.

Our Constitution creates checks and balances in the separation of three equal branches of government: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. That happy balance includes the quaint notion that only the executive branch conducts diplomacy with other nations. Article II vests responsibility for foreign affairs in the president, as head of both the armed forces and the foreign-policy bureaucracy. Our Constitution says that the president is the sole organ of communication with foreign countries. Only the president has the power to negotiate and sign treaties, which also must be ratified by two thirds of the Senate.

But Republicans have become so blatantly disrespectful of this president that even those boundaries are no longer binding. In a clear breach of protocol, Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the issue of Iran without consulting the White House. Sadly, Boehner's move is naïve by playing into the hands of Iranian extremists who are looking for any excuse to reject any agreement on nuclear disarmament. While the president is in the midst of sensitive, technically complicated negotiations, Boehner's actions could easily rupture the fragile alliance with Russia, China, and Europe's major powers as they seek to contain Iran. Netanyahu mistakenly believes that undermining the president is his path to security for Israel.

Regardless of the issue at hand, we have to marvel at what Boehner did. No matter his personal feelings about Obama, he could only undermine his own president in foreign policy if he simply had no respect for the office of the president. Compare the GOP position during the Bush administration, when any criticism or effort to oppose Bush was tantamount to treason, with the GOP position today, when the Speaker of the House of Representatives acts to weaken the presidency with blatant acts of subversion. The GOP has moved from the position that any attack on the president is anti-American to approving heartily of attacks on the president when that commander in chief is Obama to taking official actions that are counter to our own Constitution and show a clear disrespect for the office. This journey from one extreme to the other on the question of respect for the presidency is really unprecedented. That juxtaposition of contradictory positions is what makes this level of hypocrisy historic. You could not make this up.

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Dr. Jeff Schweitzer is a marine biologist, consultant and internationally recognized authority in ethics, conservation and development. He is the author of five books including Calorie Wars: Fat, Fact and Fiction (July 2011), and A New Moral Code (2010). Dr. Schweitzer has spoken at numerous international conferences in Asia, Russia, Europe and the United States.Dr. Schweitzer's work is based on his desire to introduce a stronger set of ethics into American efforts to improve the human condition worldwide. He has been instrumental in designing programs that demonstrate how third world development and protecting our resources are compatible goals. His vision is to inspire a framework that ensures that humans can grow and prosper indefinitely in a healthy environment.Formerly, Dr. Schweitzer served as an Assistant Director for International Affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy under former President Clinton. Prior to that, Dr. Schweitzer served as the Chief Environmental Officer at the State Department's Agency for International Development. In that role, he founded the multi-agency International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program, a U.S. Government that promoted conservation through rational economic use of natural resources.Dr. Schweitzer began his scientific career in the field of marine biology. He earned his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He expanded his research at the Center for Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine. While at U.C. Irvine he was awarded the Science, Engineering and Diplomacy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Dr. Schweitzer is a pilot and he founded and edited the Malibu Mirage, an aviation magazine dedicated to pilots flying these single-engine airplanes. He and his wife Sally are avid SCUBA divers and they travel widely to see new wildlife, never far from their roots as marine scientists..To learn more about Dr Schweitzer, visit his website at

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