One of my dad’s favorite stories about me is when he took me to the Big Top to buy a kite when I was 5. We found everything we needed for 97 cents. I handed my dollar to the store clerk and waited for change. When I asked for it, he told me it was for the governor. I said I didn’t want to buy a governor. After my dad and the clerk explained that the governor was going to use my 3 cents for the road to get to the store and the school I would soon attend, I acquiesced and let him keep the change I had anticipated.
Later that year, my mother told me the president had been shot. I went to my room and cried. I’ve subsequently learned that my parents didn’t vote for John F. Kennedy, but he was the leader of our country, and there was no question that we’d all been wounded when he was assassinated. Later in grade school, I worked to earn the President’s Physical Fitness Award. When I received the award, I was told that the president was proud of me and that by being physically fit, I was preparing myself to be an American who could help my country. I honestly don’t remember whether Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon was president at the time, but we grew up believing that being stronger, running faster and jumping higher were acts of patriotism that supported our president and made our country better.
The commotion over President Obama’s address to students last week is a sad indication of the cynicism that has taken over how we view our leaders. I’m pretty sure that President Johnson didn’t endorse the President’s Physical Fitness Awards because he wanted my help convincing the public we needed to escalate bombing in Vietnam or that President Nixon didn’t support the program so America’s kids would embrace his desire to open relations with Communist China.
In the 30-plus years that I have been voting for president, I’ve backed only two winners, including this president. As much as I’ve disagreed with some of the presidents who have served during my adult life, there’s never been a question in my mind that they have all been the leader of my country and my president. We expect a lot from our presidents. Not only are they the leaders of our government, they are the emotional leaders of our country.
While President Obama’s Department of Education did him no favors by developing a lesson plan that asked kids what they could do to help the president in 2009, I mourn the political reality that made it a mistake. Just as I felt like a patriot for winning the President’s Physical Fitness award in the 1960s, our kids should be able to believe their president is proud of them and that it is an act of patriotism to read better and to be good math and science students.
Whether we voted for him or not, whether we agree with his philosophy or not, whether we want him to succeed or not, Barack Obama is the president of the United States of America. He was elected overwhelmingly. And while it is not only our right, but also our responsibility, to disagree with our president and other elected leaders when we think they are wrong, I hope the lesson that can be learned from last week is that we don’t have to agree with our leaders to join them in wishing the best for our children and the future of our country.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.