TRUE STORY: A few years ago, looking out over the stately Potomac in Washington, DC’s dead-dog days of summer, I had lunch with the Daily Caller’s Neil Munro. I droned on self-importantly, indulging in tiresome ramblings, and after God knows how long, he—gasp—interrupted me.
Aside from the two of us, the incident was widely ignored by the press.
Now Neil Munro is internet famous because he behaved in a similar way in a similar situation. (Instead of me at the Kennedy Center it was President Obama in the Rose Garden.) Munro sickened the nation’s politeness police by choosing his own moment to blurt out a question at a presidential press conference.
Pushing America further to the brink of ruin, he kept at Obama with a follow-up question, forcing the president to abandon his talking points and address him personally. Within 15 seconds, the decency of the office of the presidency was defiled, and the integrity of journalism was heartlessly pissed on, forever tarnished by some guy saying something when he shouldn’t have.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably reading this wondering WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS WHOLESOME IS HAPPENING TO THIS COUNTRY? Munro is just the latest in a frighteningly long list of three presidential interrupters who have no respect for the man’s right to hold the floor at the time and place of his choosing.
If Munro himself is to be believed—and he is, no matter what his scandalized colleagues may wish, a veteran reporter, who came to the Daily Caller from the dry-as-a-dryer-sheet National Journal—he heckled the president unintentionally, hoping merely to make the event a real press conference instead of another presidential address. Daily Caller honcho Tucker Carlson reminds us that Sam Donaldson actually did heckle Ronald Reagan, drawing zero scolds or even counter-heckles.
Indeed, Google is old enough to remember that when Reagan’s re-election was in doubt, he had to ritually confront a rotten sea of contemptuously hostile press people. But that is ancient history, and besides, THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW. We live in a world where nearly everything is evidence of not-so-crypto-racism against the president. Today, interrupting the president means that America’s rubes and reactionaries are a battering ram away from destroying our respect for authority and usurping complete power in the service of Greedy Supply-Side Jesus.
Or does it? A quick glance across the Atlantic Ocean hints at how good we have it. No parliamentary fistfights. No neo-Nazi officeholders. To the cornered rats in Europe, we look like America the Boring. Heck, compared to our own past (cane fights on the House floor and all), we’re in an era of unprecedented civility.
More important, any American who’s watched television and hung out on the internet for the past ten years must understand that Obama’s struggles with authority theater are of a piece with the times. How could our society possibly generate a different dynamic inside the beltway? Instinctual decency, grateful subservience, respect for symbols—these attributes belong to a culture that many of the president’s most enthusiastic supporters view as an unfree relic that has to be smashed into bits for progress to be possible.
The discrediting of authority is hardly restricted to politics and journalism. From porn to music to education, deference to big players and established institutions is out, and doing it yourself is in. Respectable opinion leaders, Barack Obama included, fear the rise of a politics which requires Americans to fend for themselves. Yet for decades we have poured our energy into a culture that denies authority to anyone telling you what to do, and no one really pines for the good old days except for the nostalgists writing columns for the New York Times.
And as the Old World’s cornered rats can attest, this is about way more than the sociology of post-60s Americans. In the West and beyond, the pillars of the post-World War Two international order are crumbling. In an end-times atmosphere and a disappearing world, what’s a mistimed question to a disappointing president? Just another reason to freak out, quietly or loudly, or, most commonly, on Twitter. It’s news that a reporter interrupted our president, but you have to wonder why—interruptions are now the rule, not the exception.