When I heard President Obama is coming to Utah this Friday, I cringed a little.
Not because I don’t want the president to come, and not that I’m not flattered that this isn’t the last state he will visit while in office (sorry, South Dakota). It’s just that I remember August of 2006.
That was when George W. Bush came to Salt Lake City to speak to an American Legion convention. Salt Lake City’s mayor at the time, Rocky
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Anderson, didn’t exactly give the president the key to the city.
While the president spoke, Anderson led a protest a few blocks away in front of the City-County Building. He told about 1,500 people, “We will not be silent. We will continue to resist the lies, the deceptions, the outrages of the Bush administration …”
The mayor and his enthusiastic sympathizers were upset about wars in the Middle East. Musicians were on hand playing protest songs from the 1960s, lending a touch of irony to the mayor’s declaration that, “This is a new day.”
Frankly, it wasn’t the city’s finest hour.
So now I’m cringing once more because it doesn’t seem as if things have gotten much better.
President Obama ran on a promise to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a few days ago he announced that about 10,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan through at least the end of the year. And at about the same time, he has put the U.S. back in Iraq, sending bombers to help retake Tikrit from the hands of Islamic State terrorists.
Add to this his drone warfare campaign that, by some estimates, has killed thousands. It’s hard to know for sure because the administration has been so secretive. And Guantanamo, the notorious terrorist prison Obama promised to close when he first ran remains open, albeit smaller.
If the subject is transparency, the Obama administration’s record is even worse. James Risen of the New York Times called the president, “The greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”
So we can expect all those protesters and all those ‘60s greatest hits somewhere near Hill Air Force Base when the president lands, right?
If you believe that, I’ve got some great potential prison relocation real estate to sell you.
The point here is not to lament the lack of official protests led by elected officials. I happen to think the office of the president is worthy of a strong measure of respect and dignity. The participation of the mayor in 2006 was bad form, at best.
It is, rather, to point out the hypocrisy of protesters.
Sure, a few of them may indeed show up this week. They came to Boise when Obama visited in January — a sparse collection of disorganized right-wing zealots. But the Idaho Statesman said the largest group came in support of Saeed Abedini, the Boise pastor being held as a religious prisoner in Iran. They weren’t exactly opposed to the president, who also wants Abedini freed.
Apparently, even less happened in South Carolina last month when the president crossed that state off his visit list.
Nearly 45 years ago, my Dad checked me out of school for the day to go hear President Richard Nixon speak at the airport in Phoenix. I was a clueless 11-year-old, but a transcript of the speech shows the president said a lot that day about the anti-war protests that followed him everywhere. This, he said, was not a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats generally agreed on civil discourse and political due process.
Quoting Nixon may be the best way to lose an argument, but he was right on that one. Today, however, it does seem those who carry signs and chant slogans single out one party over the other.
When Obama lands on Friday, he is likely to be greeted by Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, a Democrat. That is how it should be. Any visit from a president is a big deal, no matter what people may think of his policies. The cringe-worthy exceptions to that rule in Utah should remain in the past.