WITHOUT PRECEDENT — EXCEPT FOR ALL THE OTHER TIMES…. Monday is, of course, Memorial Day, and President Obama will honor the day at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery outside Chicago, while Vice President Biden appears at Arlington National Cemetery. This, apparently, has caused a stir in some circles.
Glenn Beck told his minions this week that that the president “has decided not to honor our troops on Memorial Day,” which isn’t even close to true. The deranged media personality, apparently referring to Obama’s decision not to be at Arlington, added, “Maybe this has happened before. I don’t recall it. ”
In reality, this isn’t especially unusual.
Obama is not the first president to miss the Arlington ceremony. Ronald Reagan spoke at West Point one year, and went to his California ranch another year. George H.W. Bush, a war veteran, did not go at all. Bill Clinton, who did not serve in Vietnam and had a rocky time with the military, went to Arlington all eight years, and George W. Bush, who also avoided combat service in Vietnam, attended from 2003 onward.
Obama’s plans, in other words, are generating some criticism, but there’s really not much new here. The president’s Memorial Day schedule is a “story,” despite being fairly routine.
Which, as it turns out, one of the defining trends of the political discourse over the last 16 months. Several months ago, Atrios noted, “When Dems are president, perfectly normally ways of doing things are rebranded as somehow odd.”
Ain’t that the truth.
* Teleprompters: This trend of characterizing routine developments as controversial started very early in the Obama presidency. Every modern president has used teleprompters, but Republicans and the media thought it was hilarious and wildly important when Obama did the same thing.
* Bowing: Several presidents have been photographed bowing to foreign heads of state, but Republicans and the media thought it was absolutely scandalous when Obama did the same thing when meeting leaders where bowing is customary.
* Talking to school kids: Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush spoke to school children in national addresses, even taking a little time to push their political agendas. When Obama delivered a speech encouraging kids to do well in school, Republicans freaked out; Fox News compared the president to Saddam Hussein; and the New York Times literally ran a front-page story about it.
* Czars: For a half-century, presidents have relied on so-called “czars” for various policy areas. By one count, George W. Bush had 36 czar positions filled by 46 people during his two terms. No one cared. Obama’s use of czars became the subject of months of media scrutiny, and even congressional hearings in response to Republican apoplexy.
* Oval Office attire: Several modern presidents have been seen in the Oval Office without wearing a suit jacket. When Obama did it, Republicans ran to the press to complain, and the media actually published pieces on the subject.
* Criticizing partisan media: White House complaints about unfair media coverage are as old as the republic. When the Obama White House noted what is plainly true about Fox News — it’s a Republican outlet — the media went a little berserk, with the Washington Post and NPR characterizing the administration’s criticism as “Nixonian.”
* Reconciliation: Republican policymakers have relied on reconciliation to get around filibusters for decades. When Obama recommended the same tactic for health care, the GOP pretended it was an outrageous assault on the political process, and the media pretended Republicans’ cries were legitimate.
* Industry bailouts: Government bailouts of struggling American industries and major companies have been common for decades. When Obama rescued GM, it was used as an example of his purported desire to a communist dictator.
* Campaign intervention: Every president has had a hand in campaign activities, with several presidents offering jobs to candidates to get them out of various races. When the Obama White House intervened in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary — offering a House member an unpaid advisory gig — the media found it fascinating and Republicans called for the FBI and a special prosecutor to intervene.
* Memorial Day: Many presidents have not appeared at Arlington on Memorial Day. When Obama does it, there’s a “controversy.”
I’m all in favor of holding presidents to high standards. They have enormous power and leadership responsibilities, and it stands to reason that much will be expected of them. I enthusiastically endorse demanding the most of our leaders.
But for a year and a half, the political world seems to have created whole new rules for Obama, which aren’t applied to others — and haven’t even been applied to other presidents.
This week’s flaps over Sestak and Memorial Day plans only reinforce how truly ridiculous the phenomenon has become.