Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
On Monday, 47 Republican senators sent an open letter to Iran
Sally Kohn: Only most extreme example of dishonor and disrespect
Just when you didn’t think Republicans could top themselves in finding ways to disrespect the President of the United States, on Monday, 47 Republican Senators – that is, all but seven – sent a letter to Iran that appeared aimed at scuttling President Obama’s diplomatic efforts to prevent Tehran developing nuclear weapons capacity.
The move comes on the heels of House Republicans inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress – without even informing the White House of the plan to issue an invitation. But this latest measure went a step further, seeing Republicans in Congress literally stepping on the constitutional toes of the executive branch and formally intruding on U.S. diplomacy.
Under the Logan Act passed by Congress way back in 1799, U.S. citizens are prevented from influencing “disputes or controversies” involving the United States and a foreign government, without express authority to do so. Now, it appears the Iran letter was carefully drafted by Sen. Tom Cotton, a smart constitutional lawyer, to come as close as possible to the line of legality without crossing it, specifically by not explicitly taking a position against the Iran negotiations. Yet the intent to interfere with the executive branch is clear.
It’s one thing for Congress to demand it ratify such a deal (as Democrats did in 2002 when President Bush negotiated arms reductions with Russian President Vladimir Putin). But it’s something else entirely to undermine the authority of the White House by sending a partisan letter to a foreign government (something Democrats didn’t do with Russia).
Sadly, this is only the most recent and extreme example of dishonor and disrespect.
In the Washington Post, columnist Jonathan Capehart recently outlines what he sees as the top six instances of disrespect toward President Obama. His list includes the example of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani saying, “I do not believe that the President loves America.” Also on Capehart’s list are the time a reporter from the conservative Daily Caller website interrupted the President during remarks at the White House about immigration reform in 2012, and the time South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson, a Republican, heckled the President during his speech to a joint session of Congress about health care reform. (Wilson shouted “You lie!” in response to remarks by the President that, it should be noted, were in fact quite true).
And there are plenty more examples of Republican slights against President Obama.
Most famously, there was the widespread questioning of Obama’s citizenship and academic credentials that included signs at conservative rallies describing Obama as a “lyin’ African.” And there was the Republican women’s group that created an image of “food stamp dollars” with Obama’s face on them (as well as a bucket of KFC and watermelon). There was also Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich decrying Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Plus there was then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer waving her finger at President Obama when she greeted Air Force One on the tarmac. Brewer later alleged she “felt a little bit threatened” by the President.
Taken as a whole, this list suggests a troubling pattern of profound disrespect for the President. But more than this, it seems to reflect an anti-Obama fever that has gripped the Republican Party – one that the letter to Iran suggests shows no signs of breaking, and is a sure sign of sickness in the Republican Party.
Is the lack of respect being shown toward President Obama about race, as some have suggested? Yes and no.
Certainly, for a segment of the country, it really is about being uncomfortable with a black president. Indeed, even former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, noted what he described as a “dark vein” of intolerance in the party and parts of the country in general. But beyond that hopefully shrinking share of the population that is explicitly racist, there is a far wider issue of implicit racial bias – an unconscious, yet nonetheless real tendency, to subject President Obama to extra scrutiny because of the color of his skin.
None of this is to suggest that all of the criticism aimed at President Obama stems from implicit racial bias. But such bias appears to be a factor in the ease and extremity of disrespect aimed at America’s first black president. And this disrespect mirrors the disrespect shown against black Americans in general.
“Honorable people can disagree over policy,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday. Yes, and they should do so honorably. Whatever Republicans’ gripes about President Obama’s vision and leadership, the party and its followers are too often expressing their critiques in an ugly way. And that rampant pattern of disrespect – for any fellow human being, let alone the president of the United States of America – is what truly undermines the principles and values of our nation.
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