Jonathan Chait

The Trouble With Presidential Dignity

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President Obama's appearance on the Daily Show has inevitably produced concern about his lack of dignity:

"You don't want to use that phrase, dude," Stewart recommended with a laugh.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief "dude" pretty well captured the moment for Obama.

On the contrary, I think the office of the president has too much dignity. The president is a citizen who serves the public. It is in the interest of the president to make himself into something exalted, a national father figure and symbol of the government. But the public has no interest in this function, which, indeed, can take on monarchical trappings with an insidious anti-democratic undertone. (It's a little disturbing when people who see the president salute -- a military signal that suggests subordination.)

Obviously, I don't want to see presidents cutting their own rap videos or jumping into the ring with professional wrestlers. But at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, out problem is not too little presidential dignity but too much.

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