Or take “health care reform.” Although most Americans believe that the economy is the greatest challenge currently confronting the country (and 85% are satisfied with their own health care), the President continues to insist, contrary to most voters’ judgment and personal experience, that a health care “crisis” requiring immediate attention exists. That’s not all: The President also wants voters to believe – again, contrary to their own experience and judgment – that expanding government control over medical care through sweeping and untried reforms is the best way both to address the health care crisis and heal the economy. What’s more, he tells us, it’s possible simultaneously to increase coverage and lower costs, all without diminishing the quality of American health care. But guess what? It’s insulting to Americans to be treated as though we are stupid.
Certainly, the initial protests against ObamaCare were initiated by small-government conservatives – and, as with any protest movement, their ranks included some on the fringe of American political discourse. As less partisan Americans learned more of the details, however, their concerns about ObamaCare grew, as well. But rather than listening respectfully and addressing voters’ substantive concerns, political leaders characterized them as “un-American” instead – and, in many cases, actually refused to conduct town halls with their own constituents. Thereafter, despite the unpopularity of current “health care reform” plans and the expressed reservations of numerous Americans (including some Democrats), the administration has simply pressed ahead. In a republic like ours, where political leaders win office and remain there only at the pleasure of the people, all this conduct defines disrespect.
Finally, those who oppose President Obama’s policies were accused last week by a former President and numerous media pundits of the most disgusting kind of bigotry. Sadly, there are no doubt some racists among the President’s adversaries, but the charge, as applied to the overwhelming majority of Obama critics, was as wrongheaded as it was offensive. What’s more, it effectively dismissed – even disdained – the very real concerns of many average Americans, concerns that have nothing to do with the President’s skin color.
It may have been funny when Rodney Dangerfield decried the disrespect he constantly encountered. But when the opinions of a significant proportion of the American electorate are routinely discounted, derided or ignored both by top officials and large swathes of the media, it’s no joke. Citizens come to believe that they must shout ever more loudly just to be heard (or understood), and the quality of American civic life and discourse suffers as a result.
One of the reasons voters trusted a young and untried senator with the highest office in the land was because of his self-proclaimed interest in lowering the volume of our often-overheated political discourse. That’s the kind of change that many Americans are ready to embrace. But it isn’t likely to happen until the nation's most powerful politicians start giving voters – yes, even those with whom they disagree – what another showbiz icon, Aretha Franklin, demanded more than four decades ago: A little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.