How to Treat a President Elect

By David Swanson

In response to an Email advocating lobbying the new Congress and president-elect for complete withdrawal from Iraq and other goals, I received mostly positive responses, but a sizable minority sent replies like this one:

“Can’t you wait a minute? Give the President-Elect a moment to breathe, to catch his breath, to exhale? Stop this uber anti-militant stance to pause for the appreciation of what has been accomplished. Have a little mercy! Time enough for all this sturm and drang. Snap out of it!”

In response to a post on a progressive website supporting some of Obama’s possible appointments and opposing others, most of the comments were positive, but some took the position exemplified by this one:

“so tired of the endless drama queens. the only appointments made to date have been Podesta and perhaps Emanuel. And at least as many ‘good’ appointments as ‘bad’, have been rumored. That said, Kennedy would be an excellent choice. But, Jeebus, the hysterical crap about Obama- less than 2 days after he won, is such a predictable bore.”

For the record, there had been nothing hysterical or anything demonstrably crappy about the original post, and there is something very important that I think a lot of us are failing to fully grasp right now. In a democratic republic, the people are in charge and their role is to make their wishes known to those who represent them. When we lose any semblance of democratic representation, as during the past eight years for example, it becomes easy to think that we can best solve our problems by replacing a bad dictator with a good one, when in reality it is far more important in the long run that we cease having a dictator at all.

The only respectful way to treat a president elect or a president is to behave as a democratic citizen should, as a democratic president should want us to. Failing to make our will known amounts to an accusation against our elected officials. We thereby accuse Obama of being like Bush.

There is no such thing as giving a democratic president a chance by leaving him alone. Precisely the way you give him a chance is by lobbying him to do what you want to see done. Anything else is an insult to him and to ourselves.

During the past eight years, we could have built the most powerful citizens’ movements ever seen and never influenced our government’s policy in the slightest. A powerful movement for peace and justice was simply ignored. Now suddenly we have a government that might listen, and now is the moment in which we should go silent? What sort of an awful antidemocratic sense of timing is that?

All power has been moved from Congress, where the Constitution put it, to the White House. Suddenly we’ve placed in the White House a president who might respect the rule of law, and we are supposed to choose precisely this moment to go silent and accept the placement of dictatorial power in one man because it’s momentarily a better man? And how will this not guarantee the creation of a president even more criminal than Bush down the road? It is not an insult to Obama to propose restoring power to Congress, but the highest of praise.

The best elected official in a democracy is one who listens to the changing opinion of constituents. The worst is the principled superior creature who scorns polls and prefers not to be called or faxed or Emailed or visited because he knows better than you what’s good for you, and he can get more done if you leave him alone. We have to decide which kind of president we want to have come January.

It is only because I respect Obama that I urge him to move forward with Robert Kennedy Jr. or to abandon the idea of keeping Robert Gates in his administration. Making such suggestions to George W. Bush was like talking to a brick wall, only with less intelligent give and take. Sometimes we made appeals to Bush, but always as gimmicks to influence the media or Congress or someone else, never because we thought Bush could possibly care what any citizens of his nation thought. Obama might care what we think, especially if enough of us get together and say it in a very powerful way. He might, on some occasions, even think the same thing already but act on it because of our efforts. He might, on other occasions, take up a new idea because of us. In either case, we do him a disservice by failing to live up to our end of the bargain we made when we elected him.

We’ve so often criticized the callers to right-wing radio who, in recent years, have objected to anyone disagreeing with their commander in chief. Surely our criticism was not merely due to our disapproval of the current president, was it?

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