For history buffs out there, NPR's Linton Weeks has written a fascinating breakdown of presidential exposure over the last 200 years. Weeks shows how the private lives of U.S. presidents have become more public over time, spiking upward in 1955 following President Dwight Eisenhower's heart attack. During that time, Eisenhower staffers published daily reports on his status including details about his "bodily functions and the color of his pajamas."
In his piece, Weeks advances the argument that increased exposure leads to less respect for the presidency and ultimately damages a leader's approval numbers. He brings his argument up to today, ticking off a range of Obama trivia:
He wears a size 11 or so shoe. And his wife says he is sometimes "too snore-y and stinky" to share the marital bed... He collects comic books. He loves shrimp linguini, berry-flavored tea and Moby-Dick. He hates ice cream. He told elementary students this about his dog, Bo: "Sometimes I have to scoop up his poop."
Sure, Americans like to know their president is an everyday human being, Weeks concedes. But "disillusionment is in the details." He quotes a presidential historian at Princeton who agrees that more exposure diminishes respect. "If the president is too much like us ... we have more trouble developing respect for the officeholder and we start to find fault, too easily, about issues that don't really matter."
But would a more secretive presidency be better for the country? And is "respect for the presidency" even something worth striving for? Here's what Weeks's detractors are saying in the blogosphere:
- Disrespecting the Presidency Is a Good Thing, counters Ann Althouse:
I thought the American tradition was disrespecting authority. I can't remember a President who wasn't disrespected. (And I can remember back to Eisenhower.) Disrespecting authority is a check on power. When I hear journalists, historians, and other purported experts promoting reverence for the President, I suspect them of having the political agenda of increasing his power. Did NPR and that Princeton history enthuse about reverence for authority when George W. Bush was President?
- Ann Is Right: We've Been Ceding Too Much Power to the Executive Branch, writes Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway:
It wasn't until the early 20th Century and the dawn of the Progressive Era that the idea of the President as something beyond what the Constitution said he was took forth. Healy documents quite nicely the ways in which Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson to FDR went far beyond anything resembling Constitutional boundaries to achieve their goals, and how they were aided and abetted in that effort by a compliant Supreme Court and a Congress that lacked the courage to stand up for it’s own Constitutional prerogatives. Then with the Cold War and the rise of National Security State, the powers of the Presidency became even more enhanced. It was also around this time that the Presidency began taking on the airs of royalty and questions of "respect" became relevent. ... Rather than surrounding our Presidents with an aura of mystique, we should be doing everything to drag them back down to earth where he belongs, regardless of which political party he or she happens to come from.