“That’s not how you address the president of the United States.”
That is a quote from a White House aide in Brett Stephen’s column about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s measured but firm disagreement with the president in the Oval Office. If you recall, the President of the United States had just sandbagged Israel and the prime minister with a surprise speech, delivered practically on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, in which Obama stated that the policy of the United States towards Israel, the only democratic country in the Middle East, would practically ensure the eventual obliteration of that longtime ally.
So how do you address the president of the United States?
Always decorously, always with respect for the office and the republic. But he is not a king.
I thought Netanyahu’s behavior was heroic and exemplary. He addressed President Obama politely. There was no rudeness or bravado. But he was speaking about the survival of his country, which, in my opinion, President Obama had mperiled. Democrats and others who are shocked by Netanyahu’s “lecture,” as it is being called, preserved their equilibrium when anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan set up camp practically at George W. Bush’s front door in Crawford and when someone threw a shoe at President Bush. If I am not mistaken, the shoe thrower was applauded. Indeed, on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration Code Pink had a big Bush dummy at which the public was encouraged to throw shoes in front of the Mayflower Hotel.
I am becoming concerned about the way people on the left have begun to regard the president, as deserving of something akin to court etiquette. Netanyahu was supposed to abandon the cause of his country because he was in the Oval Office? The left is no stranger to power-they love it. But the power and glamour with which they are investing this presidency have an undemocratic feel. American politics are rough and tumble (you can expect the White House opposition research team to show you just how rough they can be next year!) and even presidents must endure having somebody speak truth to power.
I love ceremony and always say that, contrary to popular belief, democracies can do it well. I don’t mind a bit if we have a dashing president. Obama, of course, is not the first glamorous president-John F. Kennedy remains to my mind the most glamorous, but Washington and Jefferson had a certain glamour, too. FDR had patrician glam. But never before have Americans been encouraged to treat our president as a man to whom quasi royal deference must be paid. The president is our employee, not a monarch.
Netanyahu had something vitally important to say, and, by golly, he said it.