Another way to help President Obama

Language matters, so maybe it's time to show a little respect for the person with the toughest job on earth.
Crosscut archive image.

Barack Obama announcing his candidacy in Springfield, Ill., with the historic state house as backdrop.

Language matters, so maybe it's time to show a little respect for the person with the toughest job on earth.

The longest-running presidential-election season in memory ended with two very different men asking us for the same thing: HELP!

There was no single moment quite as stirring as President John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" rhetoric, but the need for all of us to roll up our sleeves and take part in the heavy shoveling ahead was expressed with clarity and charity by none other than the losing guy, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

In his gracious concession speech, McCain laid out an excellent list of things we'll need to pony up in order for life to get better in this country:

  1. Goodwill.

  2. Earnest efforts to come together, bridge differences, and compromise.

  3. Defense of our security in a dangerous world.

  4. Commitment to leaving our children and grandchildren a better legacy than we inherited.

I'd add another thing: respect for the office of President.

Lord knows there is one thing we can all agree on, whether we're Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or whatever banner Ralph Nader ran under, and it is that Barack Obama needs to get this ship righted, on course, and steer it away from any more huge icebergs. The least we can do is salute the captain while he's on the bridge.

So, I've got a modest proposal to help us become accustomed to this respect business. From here out, let's call our president by his title, not just his first or last name. Whether we're praising, cursing, questioning — make it President-elect Obama until January, then President Obama.

The language we use matters. It reflects our values. When this country was founded, black men and women were property, talked about with the same vocabulary used to describe animals. It took until the middle of the 20th century for this country's biggest newspapers to use courtesy titles for African Americans and to capitalize "Negro." The move to "African American" was made slowly over the past 20 years, grudgingly, it seems to me. It now rolls off everyone's lips, even the racist fools quoted in pre-election coverage saying they just could not vote for a guy who wasn't white.

We're not going to get the goodwill, compromising, and security stuff right every day. We may even lose sight that we're all pulling for a better future for the grandkids. So let's model behavior we know will serve them well: Respect for the guy with the toughest job on the planet.

A version of this first appeared on, a blog for readers over 50.


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