Sunday, September 4, 2011
Like you, I grew up as "the son of a black African father and a white American mother [from Kansas] search[ing] for a workable meaning to his life as a black American." See Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama at back cover. Like you, my family grew up poor and struggled to get by. Like you, we used food stamps. Like you, I followed my goal to attend law school. Also like you, I buckled down and made the Law Review while I was there. And although it's a safe bet that you've easily got me beat on the hours of involvement, like you, I, too, have dedicated a good portion of my life to community service. So when I tell you that I can relate to where you're coming from, you can rest assured that those words are not being offered as a platitude. We do, however, differ in one critical respect and it is this fundamental difference that has caused me to write this letter to you today. If you will indulge me for a moment, I believe what distinguishes us might be best illustrated through a brief story.
When I was starting off at my first big job out of college, I had a supervisor named Mark. It was probably fair to say that Mark and I didn't always see eye to eye. In all actuality, we probably never agreed on anything, including how I should have done my job. Mark was the type of supervisor who constantly micromanaged his subordinates and purposely looked for each of us to make a mistake so that he could have something to complain about. We all know the type. To make matters worse, our job (construction engineering) was already a stressful work environment in and of itself. Having a jerk for a supervisor was simply icing on the cake.
One fateful morning, we had a routine staff meeting with all the members of the project. Mark went down the project check list, asking each team member about their particular assignments. After each team member reported on what they had accomplished, Mark would find a way to belittle their progress with some type of snide remark or disrespectful comment. Being the new guy on the job, as you can imagine, my jaw was on the floor. I'd never heard anybody talk that way to other people in what was supposed to be a professional business setting. Where I'm from, if you talk that way to somebody, you'd better be ready to step outside.
Eventually, he made his way around to me. I gave him the status update and I included my projections going forward. And like clockwork, Mark not only had a disrespectful comment reserved just for me, but he also raised his voice and threw my project papers on the floor. Instinctively and without hesitation, I stood up from the table and, raising my voice level above his, shouted words to the effect of "look, I don't know who the hell you think you're talking to! I've never disrespected anybody in this office and I expect the same damn thing in return!" To say that Mark's entire demeanor changed at that precise moment would be an understatement. After my outburst, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. Nobody knew what to say. One of the other supervisors in the room eventually broke the silence and continued the meeting on Mark's behalf. A few minutes later Mark simply got up and walked out of the room.
A few days later, Mark tracked me down and actually apologized for his behavior. He also told me something that sticks with me to this day; he said that in his 15 years on the job, nobody had ever stood up to him like that before. I never had another issue with Mark for as long as I worked at that job. Now, don't get me wrong - this story could have had a very bad ending. I concede the fact that I could have easily lost my job that day right there on the spot, but you know what, Mr. President, sometimes you have to take a stand even if it means you might lose. If you have to lose -- and I'm not saying that you do -- you at least want people to remember that you went down fighting for what you believed in.
Mr. President, since you have taken office in 2009, we have all witnessed a significant number of your political adversaries display a level of disrespect for the office of the Presidency that, quite frankly, America has never seen before. From people shouting out "you lie" during a formal Presidential address to Congress -- an act that has never happened to any President in the 223-year history of our nation -- to the Speaker of the House telling the President which day the President might be allowed to convene Congress - an act, to be sure, which is a contravention of Article II Section 3 of the United States Constitution. Let's be clear, these are acts that blatantly disrespect not just you as a person, but more importantly, they disrespect the office of the Presidency. And what's worse is that you continuously allow this to happen.
To be fair, you cannot control whether some idiot is going to feel compelled to share their primitive thoughts with the rest of us, but what you can do is control how you respond. I couldn't stop Mark from being Mark, but what I could do was respond by letting him know that his actions were not going to be tolerated any longer by me. This isn't about bravado or pounding one's chest, Mr. President. This is about respect. At the moment, the GOP isn't showing you any, and if you're honest with yourself, you can't really say that you've given them any reason to.
You have consistently made a good faith effort to compromise with the very people whose stated goal is to make sure that you become a one-term President. You have made every effort to be bipartisan and inclusive of the viewpoints of the other side, and in return you have received ridicule, insults, and disrespect. Should the Tea Party prove themselves correct by making you into a one-term President, the true tragedy of your Presidency will not be that you were too progressive. No, sir. I submit to you that the true tragedy in that scenario would be that you were never progressive enough. At every turn, you have gone out of your way to water down progressive policies with conservative ideas that don't work: the stimulus bill and tax cuts; the health care bill and no public option; the prosecution of terrorists at Gitmo, the debt ceiling being handcuffed to the annual budget, the EPA and no regulations...and the list goes on. I recognize that some of these measures are taken due to the political mechanics of submitting a bill that can actually pass Congress, but some of them (too many I'm afraid) have become necessary due to the fact that your opposition no longer respects you or your position. Mr. President, this cannot continue. If there was ever a time to draw a line in the sand...this is it.
And don't worry about coming off as the "angry Black man." I know there have been times throughout your Presidency where this has held you back. However, Lord knows that White America has seen enough of your Colgate smile over the past 3 years to know that, contrary to the mindless drivel spewing from Glen Beck's mouth, you actually do like White people.
It is time, Mr. President. Time to tell your advisers to have a Coke and a smile and shut the heck up, give Michelle a fist bump, walk down the red carpet of the East Wing, look the GOP and their Tea Party masters dead in their eyes as you put them in check, restore respect to the office of the Presidency, and put America back to work with the jobs it so desperately needs. These nay-sayers may never like you, and that's fine, but you damned sure better make them respect the office of the Presidency.
No more caving. No more compromising. No more capitulation.
And remember, Mr. President, respect is never given - it is earned.
[ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE URBAN POLITICO]