Respect the office, if not the man

You may not respect the president, but you should respect his office.

I am no fan of President Barack Obama. I have been openly critical of him, particularly of his foreign policy. I think he has led this country in the wrong direction, both when he could reign unopposed during his first two years backed by a full Democratic majority and when we, Republicans, let him continue to do so through a mostly ineffective, divided opposition.

I am a critic both of his policies and his failure to seek genuine compromise across the aisle. And personally, I would not go out of my way to have a beer with him either (done that). I'd rather hang out with the likes of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush; they are more engaging and in no way as intellectually uptight as Mr. Obama.

But I treat Mr. Obama with a certain measure of respect. After all, he occupies the office of the president of the United States. Name-calling is not something I practice nor encourage when it comes to our president.

Mr. Obama has been called delusional, a psychopath, feckless and more. Whether on the House or Senate floor or in the media, it has been open season on the man who is our president.

To be fair, he and his aides are no saints, either. Name-calling has been flowing in both directions, from right to left and left to right. But there is something that goes beyond the "personal" when it involves the president of the United States. The ramifications and implications of name-calling should not be understated or overlooked.

When we disrespect the man to the extent we have been doing with Mr. Obama, we can easily, if not inadvertently, cross the line into showing disrespect for the office of the president. From that point on, it's a free fall. This goes well beyond the issue of civility in political discourse; it is an easy and direct path to undermining our very own institutional framework of government both at home and abroad, when we choose to hang our dirty laundry on the world scene.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton's letter to the Iranians, backed by 46 of his Republican colleagues, was not only a strategic blunder but also a badly thought out attempt to undermine President Obama and the presidency. It was an attempt at diplomatically dressing up a vitriolic attack on the man who is both our commander-in-chief and the chief in foreign policy matters. Had diplomacy and a better nuclear deal been the real objectives as claimed, sending such a substantively flawed open letter to the Iranian mullahs was the wrong way to go about achieving such goals. Our Republican senators, including experienced legislators like John McCain, would have done much better by putting forth an open letter to the American people.

And why bypass the office of the president of the United States when inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress? Congress has its prerogatives on who should address its joint sessions; in fact, the White House has no veto over those decisions. That means House Speaker John Boehner could have followed protocol and shown deference to the office of the president — not to Mr. Obama himself, but to the office. He could have informed the White House, likely received a rebuke, then respectfully disagreed and yet still accomplished his goal of having the Israeli prime minister address Congress.

When we give our enemies and allies alike the opportunity to exploit our divisions at home, we lose as a country.

As conservatives we ought to know better how important it is to respect the institutions of government enshrined in our Constitution. Aren't we conservatives bound by our veneration of the Constitution and the institutions it stipulates? But let us also not forget that those institutions are defined, by extension, by the men and women who occupy them.

When we step all over our institutions of government with our muddy political boots, we weaken our country in the eyes of the world and those of our enemies and allies alike.

Nino Saviano is a Washington, D.C., based Republican strategist. His email is nino@savipolitical.com; Twitter: @NinoSaviano.

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