Before We Worshipped Presidents

Last week, Lew Rockwell posted an item about officers “subduing” and arresting two people who had the audacity to stand where President Obama’s motorcade wanted to go.

I recalled this yesterday as I read an October 1900 newspaper article, which reported an indignity that VP candidate Theodore Roosevelt suffered when newsboys threw mud at him “and greeted him with insulting language . . . as he departed from the church at which he had attended.” The story was a small item several pages into the paper and there is no indication that the boys were “subdued” or arrested, or that they got into any trouble at all. Instead, the mud-spattered TR just huffed off on his way.

The story included no quotes from experts on how terrible it is that our youth would show such disrespect for a great political leader and no editorializing.

Today, of course, this would be the top news story for a week, Chris Matthews would rend his garments over the blasphemy against our civic religion, and the kids would likely be tazed or killed, and, if they lived, charged with felonies.

Another newspaper article from the same month mentioned that trick-or-treaters stopped by the White House and were greeted by President and Mrs. McKinley. The kids weren’t participating in a photo op, but were just knocking on the front door as they would at any other house. Because you could do that, because the president was not a god.

For more details of the good old days when people treated presidents like the ordinary jerks they are (and how far we’ve fallen), I highly recommend Gene Healy’s The Cult of the Presidency.

(Cross-posted at The LRC Blog.)

UPDATE: Norman Horn points out that The Cult of the Presidency is now available online for free in PDF, Kindle, and ebook formats.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • The truth of this post is both fascinating and disturbing. Imagine the number of boot marks a citizen would have in his skull if he even thought about throwing mud at President Barack. Shrub even made sure his town hall audiences were pre-screened to agree with his ideology, much less might be inclined to throw tomatoes. As the government gets bigger and more intrusive, the men who man the helm become bigger and bigger sissies and the people who worship them become bigger and bigger idiots. If it weren’t so distressing, it would be funny. Hell, it’s still funny!

  • I would posit that american public is smitten by “American Exceptionalism” as a general myth whereas it is the media/pundit/intellectual classes who are vested in the worship of the cult of personality. Let’s look at the facts. POTUS essentially has to eschew much of the basic digital communications technology of today that is available to everyone else because of the legal implications of having a digital trail. POTUS surrounds himself with an army of security detail. POTUS doesn’t actually hold open forums when conducting ‘town hall tours.” It’s a security zone populated by self-reinforcing, pre-selected political cheerleaders.

    POTUS becomes disconnected, detached, isoloted. The official organs of Corporate media promulgate the myth of unlimited power of a comic book character to single-handedly leap tall buildings and solve problems while they simultaneously swarm like piranhas over whit e house sources finger-pointing over POTUS disconnection. It’s a cult of a personality, but a strange one. Obama, like Jerry Lewis, is more popular in France these days. This isn’t your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather’s cult of personality.

  • Welcome to the Potemkin Nation!!!

  • Excellent reminder that what is now need not have been and was not so before. I am just barely old enough to remember that citizens could once refuse to bow to the Man. Those days are gone. When some future generation’s archeologists dig us up, they’ll notice the evolutionary trend towards smaller skulls and huge, sturdy knees.

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