John, Chuck, Kathleen, and Mr. President
Why did President Obama address congressmen by their first names at the health-care summit?


Dennis Prager

There was something particularly annoying — even harmful to society — about the health-care summit held last week between President Obama and leading members of the House and Senate.

It was the president’s calling all the congressmen and senators by their first names.
It is easy to appreciate just how demeaning this was to each House member and senator: Just imagine if any of them had called President Obama “Barack.”

However negative any conservative deems this presidency, we would consider it scandalous if anyone publicly referred to this or any president by his first name. For America’s sake, I do not want the office of the presidency or the president himself to be demeaned.

Likewise, for America’s sake I do not want the office of representative or senator demeaned.

Yet that is exactly what Barack Obama did. At one of the most widely watched dialogues between members of Congress and a president in American history, Barack Obama lowered the dignity of the men and women who serve in those capacities.

That this has largely gone unnoted — and, I presume, will be widely dismissed as trivial — is more a statement about the culture of our times than it is about the mainstream media’s unwillingness to criticize this president.

Other presidents and members of Congress have publicly referred to members of Congress by their first names on occasion (though this, too, is relatively new and wrong), but rarely in as formal, prolonged, and public a setting as the health-care summit.

Why did the president do this? Why did he choose to call the most prominent members of the House of Representatives and Senate — and a member of his cabinet — by their first names while he was only referred to as “Mr. President”?

One reason was to place himself on a higher and qualitatively different plane than everyone else at the summit. The summit became a meeting between the president of the United States and the boys and girls showing him deference. Anyone who disputes this needs to explain why the president did not ask to be called “Barack” and why no one called by his or her first name responded by doing the same to the president.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review