Last week I wrote an article objecting to an invitation I had received from the Obama campaign to have “some grub with POTUS.” Though I think that particular invitation demeans the presidency more than most dinner-with-the-candidate invitations, my criticism applies to both presidential candidates, since they’re both doing it. Even the local candidates for office here in Oregon are sending out these sorts of invitations.
An apparently sympathetic commenter suggested that I was trying to “turn back the clock” and must therefore be close to his 86 years of age. “Get with it or stand aside,” he urged.
I am happy to report that the octogenarian commenter has a few years on me, but I have nonetheless given serious consideration to his suggestion that I get with it or stand aside. After all, this common-folk behavior on the part of our presidential candidates (and candidates for virtually every public office) is mostly symbolic pretense intended to attract voters presumed to be common folk themselves.
Why not lighten up, go with the flow, join the 21st century? What’s the point of insisting, or just wishing, that those who aspire to be president of the United States act presidential? For that matter, what does it mean to act presidential? Maybe having grub with contributors, cracking jokes on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and hanging out with the stars in Hollywood now counts as presidential.
But that’s what worries me. When a Las Vegas fundraiser takes precedence over conferring with the leader of one of America’s staunchest and most threatened allies, when campaign demands require the president to duck in and out of the United Nations without the traditional meetings with other world leaders, the new presidential starts looking like it’s about more than politics and symbolism. Surely tradition, taste and good manners are about more than some old guy’s nostalgia for days gone by.