I cringed when Larry King, jacketless, as always, despite being a guest in the White House, ended an interview with President Clinton and Vice President Gore in 1993 with “Thanks, guys!” So I choked when Jon Stewart called the President of the United States “dude” in his appearance on “The Daily Show.”
I blame KIng for blatant disrespect to the office of the President. (I would like to think that Clinton privately told King that the next time, if there was one, it would be “Mr. President,” thanks.) I blame Stewart, too; I think it was a gaffe, and I think he should have apologized. Mostly, however, I blame Barack Obama.
Unlike King, Stewart was on his own turf, which has its own tone and culture. Stewart does not do respectful, restrained interviews on his show (Though he still sometimes lobs softballs at liberal Democrats that should be easy targets, like John Kerry). It was Obama who symbolically waived the dignity of his office by appearing on the show.
This is not only a mistake. It is irresponsible, diminishing the power of his office and all future presidents who occupy it.The post that has been held by the likes of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and the Roosevelts carries its own dignity and status that has been built meticulously over the decades. It is every President’s duty to do nothing that reduces that status. George Washington wisely eschewed the trappings of royalty, asserting that in a democracy, “Mr. President” embodies the proper balance of modesty, eminence and respect. It still does. A president who sheds the basic armor created by a tradition of formal respect from all citizens addressing him unwittingly abandons part of his authority, influence, and power.
As with so much else connected with leadership, Barack Obama doesn’t understand this, and placed himself—and his office—in a position where familiarity and casual disrespect were likely to occur. That’s what he got, too. After “dude,” what’s next? “Mac”? “Wise guy”? “Jerkwad”?
I think Obama should concentrate on holding on the “Mister President.” It is a genuine case of use it or lose it.