I thought it was a joke. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it was real. I assumed it was one of those fake commercials, like the ones they show on Saturday Night Live. But at the end of the 30-second spot, try as I might to deny it, the gruesome reality set in:
President Barack Obama, immortalized in red clay and green hair as a Chia Pet. The perfect Christmas gift for kids of all ages.
That’s right: Move over, Shrek. Make way, Spongebob. No more tasty snacks for you, Scooby-Doo. You’ve been upstaged by the leader of the free world, as he joins you in that sacred pantheon of American culture: good old traditional crass commercialism.
Good grief, Charlie Brown. What has become of our society, that it’s now acceptable to trivialize the office of the American presidency? Could it be that our national executive is now no better than a Veg-O-Matic, or a Lava Lamp?
As I look back to my childhood, I remember that many of my friends and neighbors wore t-shirts to honor their favorite celebrities: Jimi, Elvis, Marilyn. Then sometime in the 1990s, Christian bookstores added an apparel section that featured shirts bearing images of Jesus. And somehow both of those uses seem perfectly fitting because all of these personalities, in one way or another, have always been objects of worship in our society.
And then came the election of 2008: Legions of admirers, all over the country and the world, began to sport Obama-wear. Then it was coffee mugs, neckties, and action-figure dolls that were taller and beefier than G.I. Joe. Not far from my home, at a local swap-meet, I found an Andy Warhol-esque framed portrait, between similar images of Jim Morrison and Michael Jordan.
Interesting. I was born during the administration of President John F. Kennedy, and from him to Johnson to Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush, Sr. to Clinton to Bush, Jr., I can’t recall that any of their supporters ever “honored” them with a silk-screened image on an article of clothing. (Okay, so my local Party City store continues to sell Richard Nixon masks for Halloween. Perhaps he, individually, had it coming.)
The older I get, the more opinionated I seem to become. So please don’t point it out to me, I already know. And the more I watch the evening news, the more I thank God that I’m privileged to live in a free and prosperous country that works so hard to bring peace and stability to the world. At times like these, like never before, we must strive to defend the authority and dignity of the office of the Presidency.
Toward the beginning of the second Gulf War, I marveled at newspaper images of Iraqi citizens – aided by American soldiers – tearing down dozens of monuments to their despised ruler Saddam Hussein. Statues, paintings, a highway sign pointing the way to Saddam International Airport. We all knew that it was improper that a sovereign should be honored, almost deified, in this way. Good riddance. Let’s move on to build a new civilization, governed by mere mortals.
And now this. We're supposed to be the enlightened folk who know better. We're the ones who vote principles instead of personalities, the good guys who show 'em how it's done.
I remember it like it was yesterday: Election night, 2008. On every network and cable news channel, as always, they interviewed voters emerging from the polls: Who did you vote for? As expected, many affirmed their support for Obama. Then came the second question: Why did you vote for him? By my estimation, about three out of four couldn’t say, apart from some slippery cliché like “hope and change.” Which, I suppose, can mean whatever you want it to mean.
They didn’t vote for a political ideology, or some important moral tenet, or a doctrine defined in a stump speech. When pressed they didn’t know their candidate’s stance on defense spending or foreign policy or tort reform. They didn’t vote for a forceful, authoritative Commander-in-Chief to keep them safe from terrorists; they pulled that lever for a handsome, affable Captain America to make them feel good.
Let’s restore a measure of dignity to the White House. Monuments and t-shirt images belong to gods and rock stars. Not presidents.