Friday, October 14, 2011

Loyal opposition

Every four years, in January, America demonstrates why it truly is exceptional. The president of the United States steps down as the newly elected president is sworn in—or an incumbent is reaffirmed. Even when the chief justice blows the wording in giving the oath of office, power transfers seamlessly.

Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but George W. Bush won a court decision and the electoral college votes, taking the oath in January 2001. Some Democrats considered Mr. Bush’s presidency “illegitimate” because of vote-count problems in Florida, but no one actually suggested that he not be treated as president. Democratic Party leadership took up its role as the “loyal opposition.”

On Jan. 20, 2009, the day when Barack Hussein Obama became president of the United States, however, something different began to happen, something that threatens to subvert our exceptional process.

Our history has been marked by deep political differences. At one time we were even willing to go to war with one another. We are outspoken, independent, democratic voters who are unlikely to treat our elected officials, even the president, like royalty. But democracy works because there has been an overriding respect, even reverence, for the offices created by our Constitution and basic social grace toward those holding those offices.

In the mid-1960s, Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen certainly fought for his political positions and his party. But Dirksen also worked with President Kennedy and President Johnson to make civil rights and voting rights a reality, valuing that over making the president look bad.

But instead of acting as the “loyal opposition,” affirming that Mr. Obama is the constitutionally elected president, more than 35 years old, born in the United States and duly sworn in, current Republican Party leadership continues to refuse to distance themselves from those who refuse to treat our elected head of state with the simple respect previously given, and due, to the holder of the highest office.

Since George Washington took the first oath, the opposition party has always given the office of the president, and its current occupant, the automatic legitimacy conferred by the electorate. And they have kept the public rhetoric of their parties on the same high level. Doing so helps guarantee that our elections and resulting transfers of power will also be automatic and legitimate.

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