Booing the president: a lesson in civics and civility

The following opinion piece appeared in the January 24 edition of The Boston Herald:
An open letter to my children

Dear kids:

I am glad that you had the opportunity to watch the inaugural ceremony this week.

As you know, I did not vote for Barack Obama.

But there are two important lessons I hope you will take away from Tuesday’s events, and five house rules for the next four years.

First the lessons:

1) America is truly the land of opportunity. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Contrary to claims of some that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision has yet to be realized, President Obama’s inauguration proves that in 2009 the majority of Americans have moved beyond racism. Of this central fact, we should all be proud.

2) American democracy is unique, and it is strong. The peaceful transfer of power between two political parties is something we take for granted.

We’d do well to remember that in many parts of the world, the losing faction does not hand over the keys to the kingdom and walk gracefully into the sunset. That it happens so seamlessly in our nation is testament to the strength of our democracy and the faith that the American people place in our constitutional structure.

Those are the lessons. Now the house rules:

1) Dissent vigorously, but not mean-spiritedly. Oppose policies or proposals with which you disagree. Criticize the president’s rhetoric when it offends. But in so doing, never use hateful language. Terms such as “stupid” or “village idiot” when used to refer to the president demonstrate ignorance and poor manners.

2) Be proud of our country. Never disparage America in public. Whatever mistakes President Obama may make, they are not a reflection of some endemic social or political malaise. Do not lambaste the American military during a time of war. Never give anyone a reason to question your patriotism.

3) Pray for our commander in chief. President Obama is the leader of the free world; our safety and security are in his hands. Pray that he will have the fortitude and courage to face down evil and to support freedom-loving peoples around the globe. Rejoice when he succeeds; pray for him - and for our country - if he fails.

4) Respect the privacy and dignity of the first family. Daughters Malia and Sasha Obama did not ask to be in the spotlight. They are children, just like you. You may not always like the things their father does, but his children should never be the butt of your jokes or the object of your ridicule.

5) Show good sportsmanship. Losing an election is never a reason to be bitter; winning one is never a reason to gloat. Never, ever display a bumper sticker that says “1/20/13: Obama’s last day” or “Defend America, Defeat Obama.” These stickers and signs are infantile, they are for sore losers and they epitomize much of what is wrong with contemporary political discourse. On Obama’s last day in the Oval Office, show him your respect. No matter how glad you may be to see him go, think of something good about the Obama presidency, and praise it publicly. Under no circumstances are you to boo the president of the United States or chant nasty slogans, as so many of President Bush’s detractors did last Tuesday.

In short, lead by example. You have an opportunity to show the world what appropriate civic discourse looks like. Carpe Diem, my children.

- Jennifer C. Braceras, a free-lance writer, is a former Bush appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.


  1. I really appreciated these House Rules!
    I have included them over at A Catholic Notebook with proper sourcing and a link back to you.
    Thank you for sharing!!
    ps) I will be sharing these House Rules with my students today (Kindergarten through 8th grade)

  2. Re: lesson #2
    "The peaceful transfer of power between two political parties is something we take for granted."

    Brings to mind social studies class, where our teacher had us memorize the preamble to the Constitution: "We, The Parties, In Order..." What? It's supposed to be 'People', not 'Parties'?

    Given how much power the people have ceded to the parties, it is all the more disturbing to see the degree to which that power (and the 'orderly transfer' of same) is taken for granted.

  3. In this spirit, I would make another suggestion. Perhaps the owners of those many, many cars in the Concord area use the inauguration as an occasion to "move-on.org" and remove all the tacky and infantile bumper stickers they so readily afixed in the name of dissent, bi-partisanship and patriotism. It will save the rest of us from having to explain poor manners to our children over and over as we do errands around town.


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