Americans, whatever their political persuasions, hold the office of the Presidency in high esteem. I think that sometimes we substitute hope where the reality of change should be obvious.
I was struck the other day. Late night talk show host David Letterman expressed concern to his guest Rachel Maddow about President Obama's untruthful assertions about Mitt Romney's position on the auto bailout.
“Here’s what upset me last night; playing fast and loose with facts,” Letterman said to Maddow. He went on to rehash what President Obama said during Monday night’s debate regarding Romney’s position on the auto bailout which he detailed in a 2009 New York Times op-ed entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt“.
“Now, I don’t care whether you’re Republican or Democrat, you want your president to be telling the truth; you want the contender to be lying,” Letterman said. “And so what we found out today or soon thereafter that, in fact, the President Obama was not telling the truth about what was excerpted from that op-ed piece. I felt discouraged.”
President Obama certainly misrepresented Governor Romney's position on the subject and I understand Mr. Letterman's disappointment. I must admit that I do find Mr. Letterman's shock shocking since the same President seemingly misrepresented the obvious truth about Benghazi, a much more important issue on his show just one month prior sans the host hand-wringing.
Double standards aside I commend Mr. Letterman for his sentiment even if his expressed wish for candidate lying seems odd. Leaving all that aside as well, I understand what he is getting at. We Americans have such esteem for the office that we superstitiously expect the very office these men hold to elevate them above any such baseness.
Not to single out the current occupant of the office as a singular offender, it must be said that many men of various political persuasions have fallen short of the dignity of the office by treating truth as collateral damage in the larger campaign of the their own destiny.
We Americans have a tendency to do this. We think that some of the nobility of office George Washington held washes off on the likes of Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon. But offices have no such nobility.. What we really think or rather choose to believe is that the virtue of men like George Washington bequeaths to his successors through some presidential virtuistic osmosis.
This assumption is patently false and fortunately not shared by the framers of the Constitution who did not entertain such a pious delusion. Instead, they assumed the flaws of man as a given and wisely restricted the power of government, a branch , or a man while at the same time they sought the wisdom and humility of men like Washington.
But it seems today that we do the opposite. We confer the wisdom and humility of men like Washington on men who haven't a tenth of the virtue while systematically removing and restrictions on their power or hubris.
The wisdom of Washington led him to say "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
The current holder of the office said "If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists - to protect them and to promote their common welfare - all else is lost."
While both statements may seem like innocuous political piety, they are not.
One respects freedom of religion over the whim of government, one does not. One respects the fire and one does not. The question we should ask of those who believe one or the other. Which is most likely to burn you?