Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

Honoring the Office

In the last few weeks, President Barack Obama has been assailed as never before, and there is good reason for all Americans to be concerned. Not about the name-calling, per se; name-calling, slander, outrageous characterization have been a part of American presidential politics since, well, George Washington. The much revered other tall, lanky president from Illinois was dogged by epithets that today would make a Fox News commentator blush.

Even the coarse posters likening Obama to Hitler are, sad to say, unoriginal. The same was said of our previous president, and there’s no reason that loathsome, counter-factual analogy will retire anytime soon.

There are two features of the vitriol against Obama, however, that are unique and could have serious consequences. The first is the surprisingly persistent effort to question his place of birth and therefore to de-legitimize his Americanism. This isn’t the same as arguing that George W. Bush was not a legitimate president, a charge based on interpretation of a controversial Supreme Court ruling, and one that could have easily been transferred to Al Gore if the court had sided differently. No one, to our memory, however, ever questioned whether Bush was born in this country. Indeed, before becoming president, he almost never left it. The challenges to Obama’s right to hold the office are so divorced from reality that one cannot help but wonder whether they are rooted in anything other than bigotry.

The second cause for worry is the astonishing way that Rep. Joe Wilson’s intemperate outburst during Obama’s recent address to Congress raised the South Carolina lawmaker’s stature in the eyes of some Americans. Rules are rules, and it seems to make no difference to his supporters that Wilson broke them, threatening to turn a space reserved for deliberation, for the people’s sacred business, into yet another raucous town hall meeting or cable TV show.

By de-legitimizing the current president and Congress, this sentiment may accrue some short-term political benefit. It certainly has heightened partisan passion and complicated the important work of health care reform. But in the long term, what is done to one person or party can come back to haunt another. America better tread carefully here, lest the respect for government and leadership so central to our well-being — no matter who is in charge — dissolve.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.