When was it when we started losing respect for the Office of President? I don’t mean respect for the individual who is President, I mean for the Office itself?
Time was when the Office was held with some sort of idealistic sense of wonder and respect. When I was a child, in our home, there were many rules and many things that were to be remembered.
1. Mother was always right, no matter what
2. The President should always be a Republican.
3. Every elected official should be a Republican
4. Republicans were the only party you were to vote for… ever…
5. Liberal was a curse word
6. Harry Truman was the worst President ever
7. Catholics were not to be trusted. I was never told why, I was just told not to trust them!
8. Little girls didn’t get into fights with the boys in the neighborhood!
9. You may not like the President, but you must always respect the Office and the Military.
10. Mother was always right, no matter what.
There was a certain symmetry to my life back then! I grew up believing that my government was always going to do the right thing, and if necessary the United States Military would defend me and protect me at all costs.
I was born in 1952 so my memories of Presidents start with Dwight Eisenhower. Now, this man was a Republican and a Military man, so he held a special place of honor in our home. My Mother never forgave Harry Truman for firing Douglas MacArthur, so she was quite thrilled with Dwight Eisenhower. I remember on some of our trips to Gettysburg, Mother would have Dad drive by his farm there just to see if he and Mamie were there for the weekend! She would start looking for the Secret Service on the roads leading to the Farm, and Mother would know if the Eisenhower’s where weekending at the Gettysburg Farm before we even got close.
We lived above a Restaurant in those days with Mother working as a waitress, and the WWII Vets would fill the stools at the counter and tell their tales most of the day. “Ike” was “the man.” The fact that he was President was just icing on the cake for this crowd. He deserved to be President, after that bum Harry Truman. Eisenhower would bring honor and respect back the White House.
John Kennedy was not only a Democrat, but, a Catholic, so, I honestly remember thinking the world was going to end when he got elected. The word on the street was this: “Nixon should have been President.” That damn Joe Kennedy fixed the election for his boy.” “He’s too young.” “He’s a Catholic.” “He’ll make a mockery of the Office of President.” “Those Kennedy’s will ruin Washington.”
The thing is… When John Kennedy was assassinated, my Mother never moved from in front of this tiny little 5 inch black and white television we had. She was devastated that someone would actually kill the President. I sat with her and watched every moment of his funeral. I listened to her tell me how President Kennedy’s coffin was sitting on the Catafalque that was built for the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. I heard about how President’s lie in State in the Rotunda of the Capital, and I learned of the muffled drums and the horse with no rider and a boot in the stirrup backward. The only way Mother would go to bed was if my Father promised to drive us to Washington DC to see Kennedy’s grave the next day. Mother wanted to drive down to see President Kennedy’s casket in the Capital, and she pestered my Father until around midnight he finally said yes… As we were discussing getting dressed and ready to go, they came on the television and said that no one else could get in line.. This is when my Father had to promise to take us the the following Saturday!
I slept the entire 2.5 hour drive to Washington DC, waking up when Mother informed the car that we must wake up and no matter what, we must be respectful. We drove past the White House so we could see it draped in black, and we saw all the flags around the Washington Monument at half-staff. We made our way to Arlington, across the same bridge the body of President Kennedy has been brought by horse drawn carriage the day before. We were all in our Sunday best, my Father and my Uncle in a suit and tie with overcoats, hats and gloves. My Mother in her Sunday dress with a great hat and gloves, and me, in my plaid skirt, white shirt with the rounded collar with matching sweater and knee socks and the classic penny loafer. I remember it being cold, and standing in line for a very long time, and I remember the silence. Everyone had their head bowed and their hands folded together in front of them. Women and men were carrying Bibles and rosaries and people were crying. Grown men and women. Crying. I remember that the grave was still covered with flowers and the hats of every military service were also there. And that Eternal Flame. All surrounded by a white picket fence. We walked back to the car and I remember we were all silent. We all knew we had just witnessed a piece of American History.
My point to this long story is the respect that was shown and taught to me about the Office of President. Mother may not have liked President Kennedy, but, she respected the Office of President and all the traditions and honor it represented to her. She felt it was important, and she made me understand that no matter what, it’s the highest Office in the land, and it must always stand for something that’s good and right about our Country. And when something goes horribly wrong, one must pay their respects to the Office, and to the process that keeps the County strong and united.
I’m not sure this is the case in 2011. I believe we have become too jaded and too cynical about our Presidents, and this has made the Office of President appear to be a joke at times. Republicans (Watergate), Democrats (Monica). They have all made a mockery of the Office of President at one time or another.
The Presidents have lied us into wars and taken rights away from citizens and made big business more important than people. However, the Office itself still deserves respect.
Perhaps the people who occupy the Office should all just refer to Rules # 1 and 10 above.