The sad lack of civility toward a commander in chief

Jonathan Hicks | 8/31/2011, 5:02 p.m.

Why are we seeing so much disrespectful behavior toward the president? For one thing, it reflects a dissolving level of civility in American culture in general. Emotions have always run high with regard to politics and the presidency, but the very idea of a member of the House of Representatives shouting an insult at a president of the United States before a joint session of Congress would have been unthinkable in an earlier age.

There is another explanation, and it centers on the one area where Obama firmly and indisputably stands apart from his 43 predecessors in the White House. It is the undeniable role of race in this sad state of affairs. Of course, this is no news flash for African-Americans-and it should not be one for discerning Americans of every hue.

It is true that Obama won the election of 2008 and that he was supported by voters of every demographic group. However, many of those who didn't support him then-and don't support him now-are an energized, highly emotional faction. And many of those voices have been shrill and far from courteous, often tinged with racial animosity.

Perhaps the sheer flagrance of the effect of those emotions will cause even more Americans to remember that people can disagree without impertinence, without rude and vulgar behavior. It's a critical lesson for the country to take to heart, especially as we head into an emotional election season.