On Presidential "Rule"

During the recent presidential debate (9/26/08), moderator Jim Lehrer presented the following as one of his lead questions:

Are you willing to acknowledge, both of you, that this financial crisis is going to affect the way you rule the country as president of the United States…?

Play this one like Find the Hidden Picture in Highlights Magazine. Can you find the scary part of that question? I mean really scary, way too scary for a children’s magazine. I’ll give you a moment to look.

Some of you saw it right away, didn’t you? It jumped right off the page (or screen) and slapped you in the face. Ouch! For the rest of you, take a couple more minutes.

Okay, time’s up.

When I was watching the debate and I heard this question, I turned to my wife and asked a question of my own: “What did he just say?” I had a follow up question too: “Did Lehrer just say what I think he said?”

Lehrer did not bat an eye, did not flinch, had not one ounce of irony in mind, when he asked Senators McCain and Obama about how the current financial crisis would affect the way they would rule the country. Yep —- he said “rule.” Really, that’s what he said.

Like any good American, participating in the democratic process, I watch the debates just like I watch a baseball game. I am there to watch my team win. (This is both true and packed with irony.)  So when Lehrer addressed his lead question first to Senator Obama, what I saw was a slow pitch, with nothing on it, smack dab in the middle of the strike zone. My guy was up to bat and here was his chance to sail one into the parking lot. This was a gimme.

All he had to do for the easy homer was preface his response with something like, “Jim, before I respond to your question, I need to object to the notion that a president rules the country. In the United States of America, a president is a public servant, not a ruler.”

But he didn’t say anything at all like that.

The pitch was made, and as it crossed the plate, Senator Obama took his swing… swish. He began his response, “There’s no doubt it will affect our budgets. There is no doubt about it…” A swing and a miss. STEEEE-RIKE!

So there you have it: the hidden scary thing. Pardon my partisanship, but this really is beyond simply supporting my team. Thanks to the way the Bush administration has bullied its way through the last eight years, thanks to the administration’s almost total disregard for what is best for the vast majority of the American people, thanks to their systematic disassembly of the Constitution, and to their willingness to literally sacrifice the lives of thousands to serve their own purposes, we have arrived at this sad point in American history when the suggestion that The President of the United States is a ruler, rather than a public servant, goes unnoticed, or at least unchallenged, by the media and by the people who should be the most aware of the nature of the job for which they are applying. Like I said: STEEEEE-RIKE!

Here’s hoping that this was just a fluke, a bizarre oversight. Here’s hoping that, in the past eight years, we have not been successfully reprogrammed to think of our president as a ruler, that we have not forgotten who works for whom.

And here’s hoping that we are going to see better hitting in the World Series.

THOM RUTLEDGE is a psychotherapist in Nashville, Tennessee, and the author of Embracing Fear: How to Turn What Scares Us into Our Greatest Gift. For more information: www.thomrutledge.com





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