Richard Davis: Not 'my' president? Partisanship hurting the nation

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

A few days ago, speaking of President Barack Obama, someone referred to him as “your president.” That is an obvious statement. He is “my president.” But he also is every other American’s president. However, the implication was President Obama was not their president.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

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A few days ago, speaking of President Barack Obama, someone referred to him as “your president.” That is an obvious statement. He is “my president.” But he also is every other American’s president. However, the implication was President Obama was not their president.

I have heard that phrase often since President Obama was elected. Of course the “birthers” cannot admit that Obama is president because someone born outside of the United States, as they claim President Obama was, cannot be president. But the unwillingness to acknowledge President Obama as “my president” goes beyond the birthers. It is a more widespread sentiment. Blogs and Facebook pages are named for that phrase. YouTube video makers proclaim it, as do bumper stickers and t-shirts.

Unfortunately, this is not new. Similar comments were made about President George W. Bush. Following the much-disputed 2000 presidential election, some opponents of Bush were adamant that he did not belong in the White House. They insisted that Bush was “not my president.”

Today, approval of the president’s job performance is overlaid with intense partisanship. Most Republicans cannot imagine President Obama doing a good job, as was true with most Democrats’ perception of Bush. The exception was the period immediately following 9/11 when Bush’s approval ratings soared into the 80s. Other than that, partisanship today strongly predicts how someone views the current president.

It hasn’t always been that way. It is true that the president’s fellow partisans typically view him more favorably. However, the gap between the percentage of Democrats who approved of President John F. Kennedy and the percentage of Republicans who did so was 29 percent. For President Carter, it was 26 percent. For President Reagan, the gap was 39 percent.

The dramatic change came with President Clinton. The gap between Democratic and Republican approval was 52 percent. For George W. Bush, it was 45 percent.

According to a Gallup survey released last month, the gap between Democrats and Republicans in their assessment of President Obama’s job performance is 66 percent. Only 12 percent of Republicans approve of the job President Obama is doing while 78 percent of Democrats do so.

The fault is not in our recent presidents, but in ourselves. Too many Americans view the president through a partisan lens that distorts their perception. Rather than respect the office, and the person who holds it, they claim that person is “not my president.”

It is time to stop saying “not my president.” Barack Obama is the president of the United States, as was George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton prior to him. Each was duly elected by the legitimate processes that confer the office of the presidency upon an individual.

But more than the legality of their position as president is the loyalty they deserve from all Americans, regardless of party affiliation. The president is everyone’s president because he holds the office and leads the nation. It is not necessary to agree with every action of a president, or even most actions, to view the president as our nation’s leader, and therefore our leader. We may see faults in the president, but that doesn’t mean that person is “not my president.”

Latter-day Saints should be the least likely of any group of Americans to have a problem with that concept. The 12th Article of Faith states that “we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates….” And LDS Church leaders often have called on members to support the president. Immediately following the 2012 election, the First Presidency issued a statement congratulating President Obama on his re-election and urging Americans to “come together.” They said: “We invite Americans everywhere, whatever their political persuasion, to pray for the President, for his administration and the new Congress….”

There was a time when Americans as partisans waged hard-fought campaigns to win the presidency and then largely united behind the individual who ultimately was elected. They recognized that the nation could move forward together only if the president was treated as every American’s national leader. We need to return to the way past generations respected the presidency and the person who held it by banishing from our speech the phrase “not my president.”

Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU.

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