At a recent pro-gun control rally, comedian and actor Chris Rock stated that President Obama is like the “dad” and the “boss” of this country. One might consider these comments so ludicrous as to be unworthy of another mention. But they reveal a disturbing trend in the way modern America sees politicians and elected officials.
When Chris Rock and others elevate the President, or any elected official regardless of party or principle, to a “fatherly” or “boss-like” role, there’s a disconnect between how these elected leaders are perceived by much of the public, and the purpose of an elected official. Politicians have become celebrities rather than public servants because the media has framed them as such. In comments like that of Chris Rock and others, it appears that this country has come to conclude that politicians know better than mere citizens do, and hence we’re better off if we entrust our well-being to the government. If the President is our dad or our boss, then he must, folks assume, have the responsibility and greater knowledge of how to take care of us than we have ourselves.
Let’s get something straight: people who hold public office are just that— people. People who hold public office are elected by their peers to serve through representation of those same peers. The American people vote an individual into office, and so power is derived from the people. Barack Obama, then, is a public servant. The president’s job is not to be a father or a boss, but to a servant and representative to those who vote him into office.
Note that this office and title do not give presidents or senators or representatives greater ability of authority over our lives, our families or our communities. Yes, Barack Obama is the President and there are powers he maintains in that office. But neither the office nor the individual are, in any context, in the position of a “dad” or “boss” of this country. To be a “dad” or “boss” would insinuate great authoritative power derived from the office itself. As I stated above, though, that is not the case—the office of the President, and any public office, hold power because the people give that power.
Chris Rock is one in a crowd of folks who see their elected leaders as paternalistic bosses. Just to name a few examples: Last September, Actress Ellen Barkin tweeted that while Barack Obama is President, the people of the United States are “his” people. And just recently Jamie Foxx applied the label “our lord and savior” to the President.
Regardless of the person or the party, a president is an individual with a job. It’s a job with specific duties and responsibilities, and it’s an office of high honor and duty. Both the office and the individual deserve a degree of respect that is due, but above all, if one is an elected leader, he or she is a servant of the people who place him or her in power. The people don’t “belong” to him, nor does he “belong” to the people; the public servant serves because he has the consent of the governed.
When we perceive the role of elected officials as superior to the private citizen, we’re only hurting ourselves. Attributing such status to an office of public service is flatly incorrect, and it’s the kind of political mindset from which the original thirteen colonies fought a war to break free. Celebrity politics are irrational and indicative of a serious misunderstanding of the role of the elected official in our government. Above all, we must realize— and remind Hollywood —that not only Barack Obama, but also all elected officials work for us, not the other way around.