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Coastal Voices: Focus on presidential issues, not pettiness

This is for my political friends who believe issues are more important than perceptions.

The current outrage by a loud fringe of American political observers is a photo of President Obama, on the phone, his foot on a desk. It is a position that pretty much all of us have assumed absentmindedly at one time or the other.

It’s disrespectful, cried some. Makes my blood boil, said others. It shows Obama’s contempt for the country, said more.

Is that the same contempt that President George W. Bush had when he was photographed with his feet on the desk? Or President Ford? President Kennedy let his toddler son roam around the Oval Office. Shameful? President Ford even allowed his dog in the Oval Office. A disgrace?

Guess what? I don’t care that in a moment of concentration or relaxation, a president puts his feet on his desk. Or if he uses the carpeting for putting practice, as Richard Nixon did. (President Eisenhower actually slightly damaged the Oval Office floor with his golf spikes.)

I don’t care if they swear, ala President Johnson. I don’t care if they play poker, like President Truman. I don’t care if they turn the heat down and wear sweaters like President Carter. I don’t even care if the president has an intimate encounter there, although I would greatly prefer it was with the president’s spouse.

What I do care about is the decisions made by our presidents in that office. 

Right now, President Obama is in the Oval Office, wrestling with the situation in Syria, where it would appear weapons of mass destruction have been used. President George W. Bush was in that office when he decided to invade Iraq. President Johnson was in the Oval Office making decisions about the Vietnam War. President Kennedy was there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Truman had the Korean Conflict. President Franklin Roosevelt faced World War II. President Hoover, the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

President Eisenhower once said that there are no easy decisions for presidents; before they get to the Oval Office, all the easy decisions have already been made. Wise man, that Eisenhower, even when he was wearing golf shoes.

Ever notice that after they leave office, former presidents often become friends, even those that fought each other tooth and nail in bitter elections? Ford and Carter. Bush and Clinton. Perhaps it is because that only another president can relate to the stress, the demands, the tension, and even the danger of being the most powerful — and sometimes, the most hated — person in the world. 

If a president wants to put his feet on the Oval Office desk, I say go ahead. Dance on it as far as I care. All I ask is that our presidents make reasoned, well-informed decisions, based on input from all sides of the issue.

Do we have the right to disagree with that decision? You bet. But make that disagreement based on real issues, and not something as superficial as body posture during phone calls.

So, back to my original statement: My friends, when you see a member of your political party — regardless of what party that is — droning on in mock outrage about some alleged insult to the Oval Office and the American people, please, do us all a favor … tell them to shut up. If a foot on a desk or a dog on a carpet is the type of issue that makes up the basis of someone’s political foundation, you don’t want that person on your side. 

Oh, and by the way … according to legend, out of respect, President Reagan never took off his suit jacket while in the Oval Office. Except, of course, he did. There is the official White House photo, of the president wearing a fairly gaudy red shirt, and no tie. Guess what he was doing in the photo? 

His job.

John Pritchett is a Crescent City resident.

 


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