Thursday, February 14, 2008


More on shaking hands with the Moron

In his comment to my post about schmoozing with the prez, or not, Paul took me to task for contemplating such disrespect for the President of the United States. I was going to respond in the comments there, but I rather think it rates a top-level post.

First: I wasn’t clear at all about one thing, and I think Paul’s absolutely right to call me shameful for it. I never meant to say that I would actually seek out an opportunity to shake George Bush’s hand, only to spit on it. No, I’d never do that. I was thinking of the sort of situation where I might happen on it, running into him on the street or the like. And even then, as I said, I think I’d just stare at him and not extend my hand.

If I were in a position to plan it, I simply wouldn’t attend the meeting. If the situation were suitable for it — say, with a major award — I’d make a public statement about my absence. I’d consider it my responsibility to my integrity and principles to do that. In some circumstances — perhaps with an award conferred by the president himself — I would refuse the award, and again make my refusal and my reasons public.

Second, and where I disagree with Paul, I don’t believe — and didn’t, even before GWB arrived — that the “office” merits respect, regardless of the officeholder. It’s my opinion that people rate respect — or don’t — and that respect is earned. I’m willing to accept that the president of a country, or some similar officeholder, may start with respect by default, but that person can go on to earn disrespect. And our current president has, to me, earned great disrespect. I feel no obligation to act (or write) respectfully toward him.

James, who comments here as “Dr Momentum”, took the question to his blog, and I’m interested in the answers to my “What would you do?” question there and here: it surprises me how many people who find his actions and his presidency reprehensible, nevertheless think it’s the right thing to do to keep quiet, not make a scene, not show disrespect.

I guess I’m more of an activist than I’d thought.

Update, 25 Feb: See this amusing follow-up item.


lidija said...

Maybe they wouldn't want to make a scene because they don't think him an elected representative of the people, so what's the point? Snarks aside, you underestimate the ingrained fear camouflaging as respect of the authority most of us have. Public statement aside, I wouldn't think it'd have a great effect on W himself.

scouter573 said...

I suppose it all depends on who you consider your audience. If your audience is President Bush, it really doesn't matter what peaceable thing you do (no guns, no spitting, no assault). Shake his hand or not, as you like. You think he doesn't realize he is viewed as a boob? You think he cares? His handlers move him from one handshake situation to the next and he really doesn't care. He has more political advisors than you can shake a stick at, and they all tell him he's Doing the Right Thing and Ignore the Fools. Sadly, it would take a pretty significantly violent action (pie in the face, maybe) to get on the mainstream news, so I certainly won't recommend you do that (we'd miss you while you were in prison or in Gitmo). You'd pretty much have to get everyone, all of the recipients, to walk out or stay away, and the sad statistics say that someone - 1 in 4 - someone would stay, and that would be enough to look "normal" to the mainstream media and you'd get no coverage for your message. No, you 'd have to make your work speak out so that maybe the population would get a glimpse. Or you'd have to say some snarky sound-bite that might get on the evening news. And even that's a long shot.

So you might as well be civilized and polite. My mother would suggest you say nothing at all. Probably the most significant message you could present would be to smile, knowing that you have written your Congress members.

Paul said...

My main point was that I have no respect for Fleisher, who attended the event in order to receive the honour bestowed upon him by the White House, yet showed his disrespect for Bush by wearing symbols of protest. He should have, as you said, turned down the honour, and refused to attend.

Anonymous said...

What Lidija and Scouter said.

I liked your approach of refusing the "honor" of shaking his hand altogether, but I was imagining receiving some non-WH-related honor that happened to suddenly require me to appear at this WH event so that the president could congratulate me. Here, the president is appearing for the purpose of congratulating other people. It's less clear in that case what the honor itself has to do with GWB.

I wouldn't refuse because GWB is not going to stand between me and something I want to do (assuming I do want to do it). If it were specifically an award from the White House, then I might have refused it long before. I'm not entirely sure.

As for wearing protest symbols, I think it's inspired. Perhaps a simple American flag pin next to a peace symbol.

Lets say you throw a tantrum right on stage for the cameras. What would that accomplish? I think if anything is going to get through to Bush, it would be if every citizen wore some symbol of their disagreement. Just as the flag pin has become a sort of symbol during the Bush years (you'd better wear it or you're unpatriotic). These people understand that form of communication and they understand numbers. They don't respond to logic.

The peace pin would say to Bush: "I have the guts to be up here to meet you, but I want you to know that I think you need to be exposed to people who disagree with you. And I can do it in a way that prevents you from labeling me as a kook, and simply dismissing me, or having the Secret Service drag me out."

Maggie said...

Paul, freedom of speech is so extremely important, and wearing a symbol is freedom of speech. (A peace symbol and a purple ribbon.) I find your argument vaguely frightening. If you're saying freedom of speech is the problem with America, then, guilty.

Paul said...

No Maggie, you completely misunderstand my point. Freedom of speech is inviolate, and must remain so. You have the right to say anything you want to me, any time you want. Just don't come over to my place for dinner and drinks, then tell me you don't like the way I cut my lawn.

Fliesher was perfectly within his rights to express his disillusionment with President Bush. He just shouldn't have done it while accepting plaudits from the man. He should have refused to attend, and been as vocal as he pleased about the reason.

But attending, in order to have the spotlight shone on him for his own accomplishment, and using that platform to disrespect his host was bad form.

Maggie said...


The White House isn't president Bush's personal home. It belongs to the American people -- it's where the president lives. Also Bush wasn't giving this award, he was congratulating people who received this award. Fleisher didn't knock on the door of the Crawford ranch and throw feces on the president. He wore a peace sign to the White House. Maybe because he believes in peace.

I don't see how a peace symbol is going to be offensive to any reasonable person. I'm a Girl Scout leader, could I accept an award and wear my pin? What if it were a government-funded program that the president had just cut funds to? Could I wear it then because I'm still a Girl Scout leader and I still believe in the ideals of the program, or do I have to take it off because the president cut funds? What if the president doesn't like women in pants, can I wear pants, or am I showing disrespect to my sexist host? The president is a public figure at a public event. I don't think your argument is valid.


P.S. -- I can't come over to your house and criticize the way you cut your lawn? Is your lawn that important to you, or do you have an extremely thin skin? Is that why you have all this "form" that we Americans violate, because you can't handle criticism? (Isn't social criticism one of the most important functions of ART?) Honestly, I think our culture can be very crude, but at least I wouldn't get offended if somebody dissed my freakin' lawn, for crying out loud. I think your priorities are wack.

Paul said...

Woosh! Again, Maggie, my point has sailed right over your head. If you don't like the way I cut my lawn, and you want to tell me you don't like the way I cut my lawn, go right ahead. No biggie. I'm just saying that if I invite you over to dinnner, and you accept, and you choose that time to rag on me for the way I cut my lawn, you are - still within your rights - incredibly rude. What Fleisher did was not wrong. It was just in horribly bad taste.

briwei said...


I am pretty sure I get your point. It's rude to criticize your host. But doesn't it depend on your relationship with your host. If I am close enough to you to be invited to your home for dinner, am I not also close enough to you to be honest with you about other things. Or does decorum require that if I want to talk seriously or disagree with you, I have to invite you?

What I find flawed, and I suspect Maggie does too, is the analogy. He is not vocally criticizing the President. I think a "W Sucks" button would be in poor taste. But a peace symbol? How is that rude? Also, the honor bestowed was not from The White House or the President. The President was hosting a mandatory reception for the Kennedy Center honorees.

Let's retool your analogy. A senior center in your neighborhood is honoring volunteers. As the President of the HOA, the senior center wants to make nice with you. Maybe you dictate how much of the HOA budget goes to the center. They have told all their honorees that they are required to attend a dinner at your house. You didn't pick the honorees. You will not be giving them their awards. You are just having a reception for them at your house. I am one of the honorees and am not happy about the way you run the HOA. You don't let people have portable basketball hoops by the street. They have to come in every night. I don't want to go but am told that I have to. I go, but wear a pin with a basketball on it.

How have I disrespected you?