RESPECTING THE OFFICE MATTERS, REGARDLESS OF THE INDIVIDUAL


I didn’t like Senator Jon Kyl, when he represented Arizona.  I might have even hated him.  When he was in office, I wanted a bill mandating a national medical safety reporting system.  This is beginning to happen now, but in 2001, when I began, nobody considered the idea.

I called Mr. Kyl’s office, requesting what I wanted, and instructed to go to their Phoenix office to meet with a staff member there.  I put on a coat and tie.  I almost never put a coat and tie on in Arizona.  I do for funerals, when many, incredibly, do not; I went years without wearing a coat and tie.  Why would I dress up to visit to a senator’s office, when I detested the man?

I had respect for the office.

There is a huge difference between respect for the office and respect for the man or woman holding that office.  The office must be honored.  I honored the office of US Senator by dressing up.  I ended up talking to a nurse, who to this doctor was insulting, since I knew more about medicine than she did.  I said nothing about the snub, presented my program, and heard nothing afterwards, which annoyed me greatly, and indeed, showed great disrespect for me.

I had respect for the office.  Don’t forget that.  When a South Carolina Congressman yelled “You lie” to Mr. Obama during a State of the Union address, it was a massive breach of protocol and courtesy.  One simply does not denigrate the office regardless of what one thinks of the man. Those who don’t know how to deal with the issue properly should either avoid the situation or remain quiet.

In what follows, my wife disagrees with me, but perhaps my military background colors my opinion.  Everybody who has served in the military knows the difference between respect for the office and respect for the man.  I was put down by enlisted people who used “Sir,” “Doctor,” or “Lieutenant,” in a tone of voice making it abundantly clear they detested me.  I did the same to senior officers.  Later on, I would do it to lawyers, a powerful technique, for arguing with somebody who keeps calling you “Sir” is difficult.

Dartmouth students recently “flamed” (a Dartmouth expression) Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, asking him many sexually explicit questions about Perry’s opposition to Gay Rights and similar issues.  Gov. Perry was asked:  “In your campaigns you have received hard-money campaign contributions of $102 million, half of which came from 204 donors. Would you have anal sex for $102 million?”

The defense in The Dartmouth, which I once served on the editorial board, was this:  “When confronting those in power who actively disrespect the rights and humanity of others, any demand to civility is ironic…”

No, I don’t agree with this.  If you become those whom you despise, what have you become?  What made Iraq so awful was that we Americans did what we criticized others for, being inhumane.  Any demand for civility is appropriate, not ironic.  You figure out how to get your point across without being disrespectful.  

Personally, I would have asked one of these questions: 

  1. “Mr. Perry,  why did you ask people to pray that Hurricane Rita turn around in the Gulf of Mexico and go backwards, when all the weather models predicted landfall near Houston?  Would you abolish NOAA, NWS, and the NHC?”  
  2. “Do you think we can pray our way out of global climate change or cure cancer?  How do you view science, Sir?”    Add the Sir.  It matters.
  3. What is your stance on prayer vs. human action, Governor?”  Frankly, that is one of the best questions I can think of to ask a religious person.

From the editor again: Respect in this context is not a paramount or meaningful concept. I’m not advocating disrespect per se — rather, that incivility can be an effective and appropriate tool for such circumstances.

I don’t agree.  Mr. Perry is a sitting governor of Texas.  I don’t like him personally, and I don’t like Texas very much either.  The latter is irrelevant, but the former calls for civility.  By being disrespectful, you have advocated disrespect.  Incivility is a shocking tool that will do exactly the opposite of what you intend.  As a Dartmouth alumnus, I was ashamed of my school; I feel if LGBT people continue on this path, it will harm their cause, not enhance it.  You mentioned the icky factor.  A lot of us support your rights without wanting to hear details.  Can you understand that?

My questions were disrespectful, but I reject the notion that I should respect a man who holds power simply because he holds it. It should matter what he does with that power, and what he does is oppress people he finds icky.

Mr. Perry holds power because he was elected, a bad, ugly, legal money driven process now, and Mr. Perry won.  I don’t like the elections process in this country; changing the election rules in Texas would also have been a good question to ask Mr. Perry, along with voting rights in general.  Nobody is asking you to respect him, but your questions should not be disrespectful.  If you treat a governor that way, would you treat an elder in society that way, too?  Yes, it matters what Mr. Perry does with his power, and you could have stated exactly those words to him.  You could have said that his stance against gay individuals was in your view an abuse of his power, and while you respected his office you could not possibly respect him as a man.  I’m not sure he is oppressing people; here, at least; people can leave Texas and stay in the country.  If you want a definition of oppression, go to My Stealthy Freedom on Facebook and see how Iranian women get arrested or have acid thrown at them for showing too much of their hair in public.  Or be sentenced to jail for a year because they saw a volleyball game.  Or be hanged for killing their rapist.  

I have been very vocal in the 300 posts I have on this blog.  I think it is time for a national reality check about politeness and respect.  We can start with the office, even if we don’t like the person.  Trust me, Mr. Perry knows you don’t like him, and Mr. Obama knows that a lot of folks don’t like him either.  Your dislike isn’t going to change either.  What would change him, if anything, would be respect for the office, stated; dislike of his policies, stated; and cogent reasons why you feel he is on the wrong side of history.

If The Dartmouth editor can’t figure out a way to say that, I would wonder how she got accepted.  I am not nearly as articulate as she, and I got accepted.  Maybe it was because my mother taught me to be polite.

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