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President's office deserves respect

February 16, 2012|Lisa Prejean

At a recent basketball game, I noticed a young couple whispering back and forth to each other during the national anthem. It seemed rather odd to not be paying respect during this solemn time. Perhaps they hadn't been taught to show reverence when the "Star Spangled Banner" is played.

Most people were standing at attention, right hand over heart.

Unfortunately, the whisperers were standing directly between the flag and me.

It was distracting and troublesome.

Have we lost our sense of decorum? Where is the respect we once held dear?

The national anthem experience caused me to think back to the Jan. 25 incident between Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and President Barrack Obama. It appeared that Brewer was being less than respectful when confronting the president after Air Force One touched down in Phoenix. During the conversation, Brewer pointed her finger at the president as if to emphasize her point.

A photo of the incident quickly spread across news outlets nationwide.

Questions were raised as to the appropriateness of Brewer's actions. Political pundits argued that even if someone disagrees with the president, that person should exercise restraint out of respect for the office he holds.

Those who agree with that position would appreciate a decision made in 1862 by an editor of the Atlantic Monthly. The editor cut a lengthy and seemingly disparaging description of President Abraham Lincoln from an article written by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The editor's reasoning? The four-paragraph passage lacked reverence.

As my Advanced Placement English students read the unedited version of the essay, we discuss whether the editor's decision was right. What is appropriate to include in descriptions of public figures? How have attitudes shifted since Hawthorne's time? What do we value today when we read a biography of a famous person?

These are interesting topics to consider in a discussion about respect, honor and decorum.

When Hawthorne and others who were meeting with Lincoln arrived for a 9 a.m. appointment, the president was having breakfast. Word was sent that the president would be along shortly, as soon as he finished his meal.

The first indication that Hawthorne was slightly irritated with the president was evidenced in these words, "His appetite, we were glad to think, must have been a pretty fair one; for we waited about half an hour in one of the antechambers ...."

While that comment was not cut from the article, Hawthorne's references to Lincoln as "Uncle Abe," comments about Lincoln's hair having "been acquainted with neither brush nor comb that morning" or the president's "lengthy awkwardness" did not make it into the Atlantic Monthly account.

Wonder how the editor would respond to the Brewer incident or the national anthem situation?

He probably would have ordered community service for Brewer and game banishment for the whispering couple.

Come to think of it, those are not bad ideas.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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