Glenn Greenwald posted to Twitter that "Chris Matthews breaks the story of a major violation of the Constitution by Mitt Romney." Matthews, it turns out, objected to Romney's telling Obama "You’ll get your chance in a moment. I’m still speaking." Lèse-majesté! A gutter commoner dared to disrespect the sacred person of the POTUS! Byron York of the Washington Examiner wrote:
After the clip ended, Matthews seemed appalled. “I don’t think [Romney] understands the Constitution of the United States,” Matthews said. “He’s the president of the United States. You don’t say, ‘You’ll get your chance.’”I know, I feel kinda dirty linking to and quoting the Examiner, a mostly scurrilous right-wing rag on the level of the Daily Caller or the National Review Online. But York is right in this case.
Now, it’s entirely possible for one to think Romney was rude to Obama during that moment in the debate. A president is of course entitled to some deference, and some people undoubtedly thought Romney was insufficiently deferential. Others thought Romney’s behavior was entirely acceptable. But just for the record, there is nothing in the Constitution barring one from saying “You’ll get your chance” to the President of the United States — no matter what his supporters on MSNBC say.
But if it had been the other way around -- a trashy Democratic challenger trampling on the prerogatives of a Republican President -- right-wing journalists would have been as indignant as Matthews was the other night, and liberals would have jeered at them for it. One of the commenters on York's post raved that Obama deserves no respect, because he put his "filthy feet" on the holy Oval Office desk. (This was a right-wing meme a year or so ago, debunked by Snopes.com, who found a picture of George W. Bush with his filthy feet on the same desk. The truly faithful can ignore such irrelevancies, of course.)
This incident actually makes me like Romney a little more, because US Presidents probably don't get told to hold their horses very often, and a little bit of healthy disrespect won't kill them. I have to wonder how much of Romney's attitude came from wanting to put an uppity black man in his place, and I suspect racism played no small role. Notice, though, that what riled Chris Matthews (and, I'd bet, for many other liberals) was irreverence to the President. He'd probably have been upset if any other President -- even a Republican -- had been told to shut up, and I don't agree. There's too much reverence for the Presidency in this country as it is, and Americans need to remember the supposedly egalitarian roots of our system of government. Respect for the executive is one thing, a slavish deference another.
Byron York, it appears, has in the past exhibited a treacherous ability to see the clay feet of his allies, which has won him attacks by his brethren despite his usual ideological loyalty. It's easy to exercise one's critical-thinking skills on political or other opponents, just as it's easy to see the crimes of official enemies; and contrariwise it's much harder to see the irrationality and criminality of one's allies. So it's normal for partisans to demand deference when the incumbent president is of their party, and to complain when he doesn't get it. Democrats were jubilant when Joe Biden repeatedly interrupted Paul Ryan during their debate, and Republicans were indignant, but of course Ryan is only a Congressman. Republicans were happy when Romney triumphed over Obama during their first debate, while Democrats were downcast.
(By the way, some of the Right have been predicting "riots" by Teh Black if Obama loses the election next month. Based on recent history, I think riots by white Republicans are more likely if Obama wins. If Obama loses, I foresee that African-Americans will react with demoralization, and white liberals will retreat into depression, as they did when George W. Bush took office. But I digress.)
Ta-Nehisi Coates did a couple of good posts on Tagg Romney's expressed wish to punch President Obama. While I basically agree with him about the racial dynamics involved -- such issues are never wholly absent -- I think that young Romney could have said exactly the same thing about a white opponent. Coates asked for examples of a "black man associated with a credible black candidate for the presidency, joking about beating down the incumbent president of the United States." A National Review writer offered an anecdote about Michelle Obama, which Coates dismissed on the grounds that Michelle is a black woman, not a black man; he might also have objected that she was talking about a former President, not an incumbent. The gender issue isn't irrelevant here, but think of white politicians fantasizing violence about other white politicians, like (via):
media executive Harry Evans, who reportedly exclaimed at a party celebrating Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate win in New York, "I want to kill Nader." Hillary, affirming her support for capital punishment, reportedly responded, "That's not a bad idea!" Nader said Evans had apologized to him but Clinton hadn't returned his call.And I'd already thought about this, but someone posted about it before I did. Credit where credit's due:
If Obama had a son, he'd look like Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
Liberal journalists and pundits often do a very good job of shooting holes in right-wing discourse; sometimes conservatives effectively and rationally refute liberal discourse. But it's relatively rare for them to use their critical abilities on their own side. That, I think, is why people go wrong: because they won't subject their own beliefs and plans to the same scrutiny that they apply easily to others'. As Nietzsche wrote in one of his notebooks: "A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions!!!"