I sat in the passenger seat while Dad drove down the interstate; I still remember dashed lines rolling toward us. We entrenched ourselves in our sides of the conversation. He must have been discouraged, as he tried to get through to his arrogant, teenage son, who thought he knew better than this his father. Indeed, I even felt like I was impressing him — “standing up for myself” — as we talked about the somewhat abstract idea (at least to an adolescent) of respect, specifically respect for an employer and even a parent.
“Dad, I don’t care who it is. If they don’t respect me, I won’t show any respect to them,” I quickly declared, in what sounded like sure Jeffersonian language to me, not knowing that his heart must have been churning.
“Son, that won’t get you very far, because, believe me, you will work with people and for people who show you no respect. But, that doesn’t mean that you treat them the same.” And then he said it — what cemented this conversation in my head and made it the catalyst for a brand new attitude.
“If I ever met Bill Clinton, as much as I detest how he disgraced the Oval Office by some of his actions, I would still shake his hand, and I would still salute him.” I couldn’t believe it. “Even though I don’t respect what he did or even him personally, I have respect for the office of President of the United States, and I respect how many responsibilities he had.”
Though Dad may not have realized it (and still probably doesn’t), that statement has reverberated in my head for years and still dictates my own dealings with the most despised people. And, as I grow, I realize even more so than the office of President of the United States, the fact that Bill Clinton is human, created in the image of God, calls for a general respect.
So now we fast-forward to today. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi bloviated about many a thing, some justifiably. But one verbal melee stood out. A soundbite was played of President George W. Bush talking to the press about how his disappointment with Congress’s lack of. . . well, really their lack of anything. In response, Pelosi said sarcastically (perhaps in a snide attempt to sound more down-homesy?), “Well, God bless him. Bless his heart.” Then she called President Bush a “total failure.” Again, a “total failure.”
At that moment I felt I could comprehend some of Dad’s feelings as I spouted off immaturely in my own bloviating from years past. But, thank goodness, I don’t have to suffer through the pain hearing the evidence of such disrespect come from my own child.
So, to that I ask: what happened to respecting people, especially the President of the United States, even when we disagree, vehemently as it may be, with their decisions or mandates? Keep in mind that the remark to which Pelosi responded was not even directed at her; there was nothing personal in President Bush’s criticism. But, Madame Speaker felt the need to retaliate viciously, and in doing so illustrated what is so wrong with American politics today and what will poison our country so quickly: lack of respect for others (rooted, of course, in the biblical principle of imago dei). Whether we’re Republican or Democrat, white or black, Christian or atheist, right or wrong, we have to respect each other, especially our leaders, who can swing the emotional tide of our country by these very outbursts and who can do the same for our foreign enemies and allies.
True enough, respect is earned, not given, but at some fundamental point, we have to realize that we are not just “mere mortals,” to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis. And the responsibility of the President far outweighs that of which many others can conceive, just as many cannot conceive the responsibility that rests upon Speaker Pelosi’s shoulders.
Now as I revert to what Dad told his obstinate son years ago, I remember what it’s like to think your Dad so great that he’s a superhero, or, far more impressive, that he should be the President of the United States.