John, Chuck, Kathleen, and … Mr. President

There was something particularly annoying — even harmful to society — during the health care summit held last week between President Obama and leading members of the House and Senate.

It was the president’s calling all the congressmen and senators by their first names.

It is easy to appreciate just how demeaning this was of each House member and senator: Just imagine if any of them had called President Obama “Barack.”

However negative any conservatives deem this presidency, we would consider it scandalous if anyone publicly referred to this or any president by his first name. For America ‘s sake, I do not want the office of president or the president himself demeaned.

Likewise, for America ‘s sake, I do not want the office of representative or senator demeaned.

Yet that is exactly what Obama did. At perhaps one of the most widely watched dialogue between members of the United States Congress and a president in American history, Obama lowered the dignity of the men and women who serve in those capacities.

That this has largely gone unnoted — and, I presume, will be widely dismissed as trivial — is more a statement about the culture of our times than it is of the unwillingness of mainstream media to criticize this president.

Other presidents and members of Congress have on occasion publicly referred to members of Congress by their first names (though this, too, is relatively new and wrong), but rarely if ever in as formal, let alone prolonged and public, a setting as the health care summit.

Why did the president do this? Why did he choose to call the most prominent members of House of Representatives and Senate — and a member of his cabinet — by their first names while he was only referred to as “Mr. President”?

One reason was to place himself on a higher and qualitatively different plane than everyone else at the summit. It was effectively the president of the United States and the boys (and girls) showing him deference. Anyone who disputes this needs to explain why the president did not ask to be called “Barack” and why no one called by his or her first name did the same to the president.

A second reason, that only theoretically conflicts with the first, is that this president is a man of the left to the depth of his soul, and therefore has egalitarian instincts. Consequently, he likely thinks that there is something not quite right in sustaining class-based titles by referring to people by their honorific; and conversely, there is something charming in publicly calling senators, representatives, and members of his cabinet by their first names.

A third — related — reason, is the egalitarian spirit that has pervaded American society since the 1960s and ’70s. Obvious examples include students calling teachers by their first name, young people calling adults by their first name, congregants calling their clergymen by their first name, and the like. In almost every case, there has been a loss of prestige to the person and to the profession (yes, adulthood is a profession) and a corresponding loss to society.

In 28 years of radio, I have never called an interviewee who had a title by his or her first name. A psychiatrist who teaches at the UCLA School of Medicine has been on my show a number of times. Though he has been one of my closest friends for over 20 years, I have always addressed him as “Dr. Marmer” on the radio, never “Steve.” Likewise all the rabbis, priests and ministers with whom I am friends are all “Rabbi,” “Father” and “Pastor” when I address them in public.

Some will argue that this was precisely what Sen. Barbara Boxer was saying when she said to Brigadier General Michael Walsh, who was testifying before a Senate committee, “Could you say ‘senator’ instead of ‘ma’am?'” And therefore, anyone who ridiculed her for that comment cannot now complain that President Obama did not call senators and congressmen by their titles.

But the argument has no merit. Walsh never called Boxer “Barbara.” If he had, it would have been scandalous. He called her “Ma’am,” which, along with addressing a man as “sir,” is how the military (and many others) show people respect.

The issue, in any event, is publicly addressing people with titles by their first name — especially when the one doing it must be addressed by his title. Even if President Obama had used “Mr.,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.,” it would have been acceptable.

Perhaps the president thought that Americans would appreciate that he is so friendly with all these congressmen and senators — even Republicans — that he calls them all by their first names. If so, he seriously miscalculated. If he did not object to “Mr. President,” he had no right to drop “senator” and “congressman.”

But, as noted, Mr. Obama is a man of the left. And the cultural left does not particularly like “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Pastor” or “Rabbi” — or “Senator” or “Congressman.” And if you don’t think this is a right-left distinction, read right and left reactions to this column.

  • Mr. X

    Barry is an ungracious egotists and was feeding his ego and promoting his own status and trying to create a friendly atmosphere. My guess is that he does not see the legistlative houses as viable. In this president's favor, he did not do it consciously. Whats scary is what is in his core.

  • Spirit 0f 1776

    I still want to see all his records that have been sealed. Barry's not my President and he never will be.

  • eerie Steve

    Anyone remember the movement by the press shortly after the 2000 election where they all called W. “Mr. Bush” instead of President Bush? This is a calculated attempt.

    What really creeps me out is how Godfather-esque the entire affair seemed. I was waiting for Harry Reid to stand up and say he wants to keep healthcare in the black districts because, you know, they all have no souls anyway.

  • Danny

    “And if you don’t think this is a right-left distinction, read right and left reactions to this column.”

    So far, 2 of the 3 “right” reactions have referred to President Obama as “Barry”. The 4th referred to President Bush as “W”.


    • Danny

      Oops, I meant the 3rd.

  • Stephen D.

    This appears to be an attempt to deminish the opposition. As if they were all on "sides" as opposed to a team of representatives instead of delegates. Everything that brings them down a peg and you up is a recommended strategy. Think about the CEO that has his chair a little higher than any visitor to his office. Think about all the monarchs of of old using a throne. Same principle applies.

  • Joel

    More of the same from the Community orgainzer in chief. This slight, coupled with his insistance that he let everyone know he was the Pres, had won in November, shows his lack of leadership skills. REAL leaders don't need to constantly remind people who is the leader. REAL leaders just have "it." When a leader walks into a room, people know it, and the idea that I have to remind you is foreign to them. Not this egomanic. 2012 cannot come soon enough.

  • johncarens

    The egalitarian, statist left has been furiously working for three generations to tear down the walls of honor, respect, kinship and modesty that Western culture has very methodically and wisely built into our public discourse over the course of countless generations. It was a way to perpetuate civilization and protect children with familial tradition. The libertine, hedonist, radical left loathes our traditions, despises traditional families, and it wants to replace them with a set of new constraints, which, on the surface, appear more relaxed, but are in reality even more aggressively rigid and inflexible.

    For example, "men" are now referred to as "guys". The only "marriages" that seem relevant are the ones between homosexuals. We used to be culturally compelled to attend church, now we must attend the recycling center. We used to be instructed that the US flag was an actual living symbol of all the blood and sweat used to hoist it, but now it is hip to scoff at it, and we joke and laugh while it is being hung.

    But, honor and respect in this new paradigm isn't gone completely for these bootlickers. Can you imagine Barack Obama greeting any Hollywood A-Lister and not saying "Hello, Mr. Hefner" or "Good Evening, Mr. Spielberg", or "It's a pleasure to meet you, Sir Elton John". As I've said, these extreme leftist radicals (-for that's all that's remains out there on the Democrat side) have spent a lot of time maligning the folks they claim to represent –the ordinary citizen–, but are starry-eyed around the grotesque international super-rich jet setters, and vulgar celebrities.

    • johncarens

      John, you make some great points. In fact I think you should set out to touch more people. Go to local events,show up at meetings (that are open to the public. Get your name out there at the grass roots level. Many men like you started their personal campaigns at your age. But when people say "oh it's never too late" there does come a point when it IS too late. I would hate to see all your energy wasted on writing to us vertual strangers in the safety of your home when you could make actual policy change. The maybe someday I would meet you in person. Besides if your this insightful I can only imagine what an amazing wife and family you have behind you. They need to be part of your , what could be, incredible story. Good luck John

  • TonyB

    I prefer to call him President Hopeychange (a borrowed name). When a person LIES time and time again the respect issue goes out the window. We like to say that politicians attempt to swoon their base (left or right) and then attempt to govern from the "center." In order to do that you must LIE!! Some call it flip flopping but it is LYING! When politicians begin to tell the truth we will see politeness and respect return.

  • jbtrevor

    The 'first name' calling of the Senators/Representatives by the President goes beyond all that has been said. Many High School children were watching the live or recorded sessions. Using first names honorable people sets a terrible example to our school age children; but then of all the 'bad' examples set by this President (Smoking, Drinking) & his Chief of Staff (calling people Retards) I suppose this pales by comparison

  • temarch

    This is part of the left's doctrine of a "classless" society. Everybody acts as though everyone is on the same level, even though they don't believe it themselves.

  • USMCSnpier

    Left or right thing? That is pure nonsense. Overfamilarity is a lack of respect by calling people by their first names when public protocol requires that you be addressed as Mr President. It is also condescending. Bill Oreilly always calls people by their last names without any title which is just as bad. Both cases are rude, and not suited to the behavior of a gentleman for either Mr. Oreilly or of President Obama. Intellectual incompetence should be sufficed at a minimum by good manners.

  • JohnC

    Mr. Prager,
    I was brought up much like you I believe and one should address others in the correct manner befitting their station in life. Hence, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Father, was, and is to this day, still warranted. I, too, noticed the President's use of first names and immediately in my gut knew he was elevating himself to a position of superiority and letting all the participants, especially the Republicans, know who was in charge and to know their place; there was nothing egalitarian about this in my humble opinion, sir. What we are witnessing on a daily basis coming from this administration should concern all of us.

  • Raymond in DC

    One shouldn't be surprised. Obama doesn't consider other nations or our relations with them "special" (UK, Israel, He doesn't think the American people are special. And he clearly doesn't think the people's elected representatives are special. Only HE is special. As Obama recently explained why this time things will be different, "You have me."

    I'll leave it to the psychiatrists to conclude whether this is further evidence of a narcissistic personality.

  • cochavi1

    Barry is an egalitarian exactly like Lenin or any cult leader. The people are his family, but he is not of them, he is above them and teaching them. All the posts make good points.

    An additional notice – besides the 'personalization' and the symbolic 'childizing' of the individual representative, Obama's body language and remarks are meant to say 1) it's nice to hear your opinions, but 'we won'; we want to 'compromise' but on our terms; 2) since you fail to do so, we will now dictate terms, as the public indicated its desire for that by electing me.

    Never mind that most people are now strongly against Obama on the personal level, and increasingly so regarding policy.

    At the same time it is politically positive for those who oppose him, in the sense that he is becoming gradually desperate. So people say then he'll declare martial law. No: push back against the bullying one hard enough and he backs off and goes away.

    Pamela Geller's site showed the other day just how often 'The President' uses his raised middle finger against different parts of his face when a speaker he does not like is making a point to him. This does not seem accidental.

  • Eyesopened

    I was wondering if anyone else was as offended as I was by the President's lack of respect and, frankly, lack of humility. What an ego. His template is a classroom with a professor (him) and students (anyone else not elected president). This reminded me of a press conference he held early in his term in which he explained how he had participants of a meeting form into "breakout groups" to discuss issues and then report their findings back to the meeting as a whole. Just like teachers do in college or just like at a community organizing meeting in Chicago perhaps. At that point I knew President Obama lacked real leadership skill.

    When he called Senator McCain, John, and insultingly reminded the Senator, and everyone else, that he had beaten Senator McCain in November, it showed what a character flaw the President has. I wish the Senator had said, "Yes Mr. President, you beat me, but in my life, I've been beaten worse and no beating ever stopped me before and won't stop me now from serving my country."

  • Paul P

    As a firefighter for over 20 years, we had a rule that whenever we were in public, we referred to each other by their rank first and then their last name. As in Lieutenant Jones, Captain Smith or Chief Williams. When we were conducting business, even out of the public eye but in an offical meeting, we again used only our ranks when referring to each other. Only when we were around the station, or out of uniform, did we refer to each other by our first names and we did so, in friendship. This is how discipline is maintained, it shows respect for the rank and maintains order. It also equates to a professional working environment. When order breaks down, mutual respect is lost. The lack of respect among the particpants in the forum, was obvious.

    • Wideband

      That's pretty much the same way it has worked in the military too, for the last 30 years. However, to me first name references are kind of a sign of the times and a pretty minor offence. If that was my biggest complaint with Mr. Obama, I'd be a much happier camper.

      • Paul P

        Well yeah! I'm not saying that's all that's wrong with the guy. But, when I see how inattentive he is and how informal he is, it reminds me of some of the worst officers, I've had. The type that acts like they're one of the guys, someone you can be "real" with. When most of them choose to screw you the very first time they are called in to answer for an action outside of the standard operating procedures, even when justified.

        I never asked for anyone to cover for me, but I never wanted someone to act like they had your back, only to drop you like a turd, when it all hit the fan. This guy appears to be just like that.

  • tanstaafl

    Politeness has vanished from public dialogue.

  • Gayle

    I was taught to respect those in authority over me and my elders. It was obvious that Senator McCain was shocked at the President's comments to him. The President's comments were prideful, rude and ungentlemanly. He is certainly not a man to whom I or my children can look up.

  • Cookie

    I noticed that he was addressing everyone by their first names and he was addressed by his tittle. I was deeply offended by it. It's just another abuse of power. HE certainly does like the trappings of power. Maybe he'll party and drink and smoke himself into the ground.

  • Sashland

    I am not offended by the Senators being called by their first names; it would have been entirely, no, especially, appropriate for John, Chuck and Kathleen to call that time dominator 'I'm here to teach you how to listen', well, ah, "Broke", oops, I mean "Barak".

    From now on we will all be on a first name basis; for formal occasions I will use the formal title "Mr. Broke".

    You say "bah – rack", I say "bah-roke"…
    let's call the whole thing off…

  • BMR

    Is there a moderator in the house? How many of these posts do we need to see on this site?

  • trickyblain

    "And if you don’t think this is a right-left distinction, read right and left reactions to this column."

    Mr. Prager, good sir, you are an idiot. We never saw you complain about President Bush, who was far less formal than Obama on his most laid-back day. Of course, Bush was deemed as an "everyday guy" (in a good way) byDon't you remeber "Browny"? Or "Turd-blossum"? Or any of the following nicknames that Bush used to publically address his staff, fellow pols, world leaders and journalists:
    Dino – Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada
    Steve – Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
    Pootie-Poot – Vladimir Putin, current Prime Minister and former President of Russia

    • trickyblain

      Bandar Bush – Bandar bin Sultan, ambassador to the United States from Saudi Arabia
      Landslide – Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
      Man of Steel – John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia
      Big Time – Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States of America
      Izzy, Altoid Boy – Special Assistant Israel Hernandez (for his role as provider of breath mints to the President on the campaign trail)
      Boy Genius, Turd Blossom – Senior Advisor Karl Rove

  • trickyblain

    Condi – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
    The World's Greatest Hero – Secretary of State Colin Powell
    Big O (current), Pablo (former) – Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill
    Fredo, Speedy – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
    Danny Boy, Dan the Man – Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Bartlett
    Ari-Bob – White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
    High Prophet, Hurricane Karen – Karen Hughes, Special Advisor; Director of Communications under Texas Governor George W. Bush
    The Blade, My Man Mitch – Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels
    Big Country – Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh
    Brownie – Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown
    Tree Man – Unnamed forest service official
    La Margarita – Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
    Tangent Man – White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card
    Tiny – Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
    Light Bulb – National Energy Policy Development Group Executive Director Andrew D. Lundquist
    Horny – White House Speechwriter Jonathan Horn
    Pablo – Paul Wellstone, Democratic Senator, Minnesota
    Pedro – Peter King, Republican Congressman from New York

    • trickyblain

      Hogan – John McCain, Republican Senator, Arizona
      Big George – George Miller, Democratic Congressman, California
      Freddy Boy, Freddo – Fred Upton, Republican Congressman from Michigan
      Congressman Kickass – John Sweeney, Republican Congressman, New York
      Nellie (former), Benney (former), Benator (current) – Ben Nelson, Democratic Senator, Nebraska
      Ellis – Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senator, New York
      Bama, Rock – Barack Obama, former Democratic Senator, Illinois and the current President
      Ali – Barbara Boxer, Democratic Senator, California
      Frazier – Diane Feinstein, Democratic Senator, California
      Sabertooth – Barney Frank, Democratic Congressman, Massachusetts
      Red – Adam Putnam, Republican Congressman, Florida
      The Cobra – Maureen Dowd
      Stretch/Little Stretch – David Gregory, NBC
      Stretch – Dick Kyle, Bloomberg News
      Super Stretch – Bill Sammon, then of The Washington Times, now of The Washington Examiner
      Mikey – Mike Emanuel, Fox News
      Shades – Peter Wallsten, blind reporter for the Los Angeles Times
      Panchito – Frank Bruni, Reporter who covered Bush campaign in 2000 for the New York Times
      Kenny Boy – Kenneth Lay….