Respect is something everyone wants and many even demand. There are at least two kinds of respect: for the person and for the position the person occupies. Both are necessary for anything to function properly: friendship, marriage, business, or government. Many of the workplace mediations I do come down to whether both sides are willing to give the other both kinds of respect, and what pushes them toward doing this is the often-grudging recognition of the fact that while they do not have to love each other or even like each other, they do have a mutual goal requiring their cooperation.
At one time, liberals were presumed to champion individual rights, while conservatives stressed duty to the state. Sometime in the last century, perhaps with the emergence of the activist welfare state and conservatives’ drift toward neoliberalism, these definitions were turned largely on their heads. No matter: the fact remains that rights without responsibilities are meaningless and vice-versa.
In the English Parliament, there is the party in power and the Loyal Opposition, a label that clearly indicates that whatever their agenda, all members serve something greater than themselves – their country – and are never to act tyrannically or sulk uncooperatively in the corner. Arguments can get nasty, yes, but the Loyal Opposition would never think of deliberately sabotaging the ability of the party in power to govern.
For the past eight years, the party in opposition to the man elected to lead this country has completely lost sight of maintaining the balance of respect for person and position so imperative to the founders of our country. Government is an ongoing experiment; this is the glory of our Constitution, a network of checks and balances, not obstructions. But from the moment President Obama took office, the disloyal opposition has had only one, loudly-stated agenda: to restrict the president to a single term. Not by participating in government, but by making it impossible for him to fulfill his duties, and then bashing him for his struggles. They don’t have to like the president or love him. But their lack of respect for him and his office is an attack on the very Constitution that they loudly proclaim they cherish.
With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.
Richard Friedlander is a mediator and actor living in the East Bay.