Topic: Government & Politics
When the President is on Personal Business
A recent letter of complaint to
the Washington Post takes President Obama and the First Lady to task for
insisting on attending a parent-teacher conference at their daughterís
school. As is always the case when POTUS travels around Washington, D.C.,
this First Family appointment entailed street closings, traffic jams,
a trail of limos and security vehicles, thousands of dollars of taxpayer
expense and serious delays and inconvenience for many Washingtonians.
Why not have the meeting via teleconference, the letter queried? Why not
bring the teacher to the White House? The irate writer asked whether it
was fair and right for the Presidentís insistence on fulfilling a parental
responsibility in person to inconvenience so many.
Itís a good question, and not as
easy to answer as the writer might assume. The issue illustrates how even
the most mundane activities raise important ethical considerations when
one is in a leadership position, and especially this one.
It wasnít so long ago when presidents
traveled around D.C. with minimal security. Indeed, it is remarkable that
there have been so few successful assassination attempts on the Chief
Executive, since it took us so long to provide the office with thorough
protection. For decades, however, D.C. residents have gritted their teeth
and endured the howling sirens, blocked traffic and late meetings that
accompany presidential jaunts in the city. The President of the United
States canít be prisoner in the White House.
On the other hand, an ethical president
must be mindful of the expense, disruption, and inconvenience to others
that he necessarily causes every time he goes out. These are direct consequences
of his conduct, and he has an obligation not to ignore their seriousness
or act as if they are not worthy of his concern. The Post letter obviously
was looking at Barack and Michelleís trip in this light. Sure, itís nice
that the Obamas take a proper interest in their kidsí education, but this
is personal, not national business. Is it fair for them to put their family
duties above the lives of all the people inconvenienced when the president
rides through Washington? This is America, after all: we have no royalty.
If the Obamas arenít doing the nationís work, their activities are no
more important than those of any other citizen, right?
Well, sort of right. Presidents
work seven days a week, and their families make many sacrifices so that
the elected leader of the free world can labor for the national interest.
As long as Obama isnít routinely revving up the motorcade to go to the
7-11 or the Multiplex, Washingtonians should be willing to endure some
inconvenience allow his family some semblance of a normal life.
Most important of all, there is
the leadership factor. One of the reasons for the decline in Americaís
education is that too many parents canít be bothered to take a proactive
role in their childrenís schooling. They are too busy, too tired, or too
self-involvedÖ.or so they claim. But if the President of the United
States can find the time to go to a parent-teacher conference, by
George, there are no excuses! Serving as a national role model, as a man,
a father, and a citizen, is a critical part of Barack Obamaís job. If
it costs taxpayers some money for a limo and motorcycle convoy and ties
up some D.C. traffic to remind Mr. and Mrs. Workaholic and their neighbors,
the Irresponsibles, that their kids need them to pay attention to their
schooling, then that is money and time well spent.
Even when the President is just meeting a parental responsibility, he is doing his job.