Earning Respect

I have noticed something interesting about a controversy involving the man who is unfortunately our Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Some liberals consider McConnell to be a racist; most conservatives disagree. While I dislike McConnell for his homophobia, I am honestly not sure whether or not he is racist. On the one hand, McConnell wrote in opposition to segregation as a college student, supported civil rights champion Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for president over Barry Goldwater, was present for the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while working for pro-civil rights Senator John Sherman Cooper, defied Ronald Reagan by voting to impose strong sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime, and has a congenial relationship with the Louisville Urban League. Supporting civil rights legislation and defying your president to clamp down on a racist foreign government are not the standard acts of a racist. But then, there’s the elephant in the room that really makes one wonder if McConnell is a racist. He has a strong admiration for the 19th century politician, Henry Clay. That would not, in and of itself, suggest racism, but the reasoning behind his admiration is much more disturbing. According to the New Republic, McConnell stated that, “The compromises that he brought about probably pushed the Civil War off, first the one in 1820, then the one of 1850.” How exactly did these compromises delay the Civil War? To put it simply, they involved making concessions to both the proslavery and antislavery factions in America. For example, the Compromise of 1850 included a much stronger Fugitive Slave Act that made life far more difficult for fugitive slaves who had escaped to the North. This compromise forced many fugitive slaves to flee all the way to Canada, rather than just to the North, to avoid recapture. So what McConnell seems to be saying is that Clay’s decision to appease slaveholders in order to promote unity between (white) Northerners and Southerners was the right thing to do. While I suppose it is possible McConnell meant something other than what it sounded like he meant, this quote suggests that he places appallingly low value on the needs of black people. His retrograde interpretation of Clay’s policies was actually criticized by Rand Paul. There’s a general truism in life: when Rand Paul schools you on racism, you have really, truly screwed up. It seems painfully obvious that if one wants to accuse the Senate majority leader of racism, his praise of Henry Clay’s racist compromises would be the thing to focus on. Instead, however, accusations of racism directed at McConnell can usually be summed up as: “He’s mean to President Obama, President Obama is black, therefore McConnell is mean to Obama because Obama’s black.”

How on Earth could disagreement and antagonism with a specific individual who happens to be black be greater evidence of racism than support for compromises that PROLONGED SLAVERY? The answer ties in with the subject of this blog. I believe that the disproportionate amount of focus on McConnell’s opposition to Obama and lack of focus on his lionization of Clay is tied in with the lionization of the office of the president. Many Americans are so adamant that the president must be treated with respect no matter what. How often have we heard during the Obama Administration, “You need to support the president and respect the office even if you don’t like him”? Of course, this isn’t a liberal tendency. Conservatives frequently made the same claim in the Bush Administration, and they would be making it now if Romney or McCain had won. But is this mentality of respecting the president no matter what reasonable? In fact, it is profoundly anti-republican (small r republican, not “Republican.”) In a republic, our head of State has certain powers, but they are not considered a divine figure. They are a human being like everyone else. By saying that a president deserves special respect simply by virtue of their office, whether they personally deserve it or not, we are treating the president like a god or at least an absolute monarch. The problem with “respecting the office” is that the office is only as good as the person occupying it. An immoral or venal president can wreak tremendous damage. If anything, a case could be made that an immoral or venal person serving as president is actually more deserving of disrespect than the average immoral or venal person, because the impact of their transgressions is likely to be more severe. I certainly respect President Obama. But I did not respect him automatically due to him being the president. He had to earn my respect, and over time, he did, via his groundbreaking support for gay rights. Unfortunately, there is a good chance that a Republican is going to get elected president next year and that it will be a bigoted Republican. If, in fact, a bigoted Republican like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, or Donald Trump gets elected president, many liberals probably will and certainly should give them the disrespect that they deserve. Do these liberals really want to blasted as hypocrites by conservatives, because some of them have spent the last eight years telling conservatives to respect Obama simply because he’s the president? In order to be able to disrespect a President Ted Cruz without being hypocritical, liberals must stop playing the “respect the office of the president” card right now.

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