Oprah Winfrey has some questionable ideas about respect and President Obama.
Oprah, considered by some to be media’s “first lady,” said during a recent MSNBC interview that, “I am surprised at the mood of the country. I am surprised at the fact that we live in an era where it’s so easy for everybody to have a position of criticism. I get really concerned because I think we are one nation even though we all have different beliefs, and I think that the president of the United States -- that position holds a sense of authority and governance over us all. So that even if you’re not in support of his policies, there needs to be a certain level of respect for the office.”
Well, don’t be surprised, Oprah. It is a virtue in a democracy for people to criticize -- to have vigorous debate and even dissent, involving ideas, policies and personalities, right up to the office of the presidency. This clash of “different beliefs” is part of America’s healthy dialogue about politics generally and presidential leadership specifically. Every president had best be ready to answer his critics.
No one knows this better than Oprah. When she interviewed President George W. Bush about his memoir, she – properly – asked him his reactions to those who, as Bush wrote, called him “a Nazi, a war criminal and Satan himself.” Oprah also asked Bush how he felt about Kanye West’s comment during a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina relief that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
For Oprah to now be shocked – shocked – that there’s so much criticism of President Obama is disingenuous. Given the way she questioned Bush, she clearly realizes that harsh criticism comes with the job of being president. Oprah reveals her partisan protectiveness of Obama when she suggests that criticizing Obama undermines national unity and crosses a line showing disrespect for the office of the president.
Oprah either knows or should know that the respect a president gets must be earned – and is not granted in deference to his position. We improve a president’s leadership by challenging him to explain and prove his efficacy. True respect for a president or any leader of a political, secular or religious group properly derives from performance, not position.
On that measure, Oprah further shows how misplaced her notion of “respect” regarding Obama is when she said, “I’m feeling great about Obama’s leadership. I feel that everybody has a learning curve. The reason I was willing to step out for him was because I believed in his integrity and I believed in his heart. And I believe that what he really wants for this country is for this country to be greater, stronger, more innovative. And I believe that those principles are what really enforce his beliefs. And so I have no issues with the Obama administration.”
This is judgment by feelings rather than results. The rest of the country isn’t so sanguine. In a February 13 Rasmussen poll, only “28% of the nation's voters strongly approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president.” Pollster Scott Rasmussen has written that, "The gap between Americans who want to govern themselves and politicians who want to rule over them may be as big today as the gap between the colonies and England during the 18th century." The man standing at the top of that gap – actually, a credibility gap – is President Obama.
President Obama has not delivered what he promised. After more than two years, the country’s “mood” about Obama is that his “learning curve” got bent in a leftward direction and that his definitions of “greater, stronger, [and] more innovative” all refer to government intrusion and control instead of more freedom for individuals and the free market.
Americans are distressed about persistently problematic issues in President Obama’s portfolio during his tenure, including unemployment, the economy, government spending and debt, health care, government ethics and corruption, education, taxes, entitlement programs, immigration, national security and the war on terror.
However, Oprah seems to want to diminish that dissatisfaction when she concludes that, “everybody complaining ought to try it [being president] for a week.”
Well, respectfully, Oprah, voters will conduct that thought experiment – in the week running up to Election Day 2012.
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.