Throughout her campaign for reelection Mary Landrieu has faced a major dilemma — what to say about President Obama. Embrace his policies and she loses moderates who understand how immoderate Obama is; distance herself and she alienates the black voters on whom she heavily relies.
As Scott has written, Landrieu addressed the dilemma by speaking with two voices. She says one thing when speaking to the public at large and another in messages targeted to an African-American audience.
But now, with her defeat all but certain, Landrieu has developed a line on the president that will resonate with blacks without alienating most moderate whites: Respect the office.
Specifically, Landrieu is accusing her opponent, Bill Cassidy, of being “disrespectful” to the president because Cassidy “refers to him by his last name — constantly.” Landrieu explained:
This isn’t about whether you like Bill Clinton as president or George Bush as president or Barack Obama as president. If you are going to refer to the president of the United States, he’s at least earned the title that the people gave him when they elected him.
Will Cassidy’s manners cost him the election? Of course not. But give Landrieu credit for at last finding a unified theory on Barack Obama. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, Obama IS the president.
I should add that I share Landrieu’s preference for referring to Obama as “President Obama.” I have tried to do so at the beginning of all of my posts about him.
But the ship sailed long ago on this matter of etiquette. During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton (and even, if memory serves, some of his wet-behind-the-ears staffers) constantly referred to the president, in public, as “Bush.” (This, of course, was long before Clinton began playing the role of Bush 41’s buddy).
At the time, I was as appalled as Landrieu says she is now. To me, Clinton’s conduct towards George H.W. Bush represents an important moment in the decline of political civility.
It’s a bit late, 22 years on, to reverse that decline. Similarly, it’s too late for Landrieu to reverse hers.