What, Exactly, Was Inappropriate About Drew Johnson's Headline?



On Thursday, Steven Hale brought you news of Drew Johnson's sacking from the Times Free Press. Johnson was ostensibly fired for changing the headline on his editorial after it had been approved to, "Take your jobs plan and shove it, Mr. President: Your policies have harmed Chattanooga enough."

Here's the thing i don't get: What, exactly, is wrong with this headline? I, personally, didn't like it. I thought it was rude and unwelcoming. But I'm a liberal and I voted for Obama, twice. And I would have happily told Drew Johnson to his face that I thought he was being rude and a bad host. But that's a different issue than whether he should be fired for it.

I didn't think it was wrong of the Free Press to run it. After all, one only needs look at the comments below Hale's post to see that this kind of rude and aggressive rhetoric is indeed how a lot of Tennesseans talk about Obama. So why, exactly, is it wrong to express an opinion a lot of Free Press readers agree with in the vernacular they use?

What's inappropriate here? Is it because it's disrespectful to the President? The whole point of this grand, young experiment in self-governing, after all, is that "self-governing" part. Yes, in practice, we have a political class. But in theory, any one of us — any regular old person — could become president. I like Barack Obama, a lot. That said, he is not our king. People who disagree with him should not be under any obligation to show him deference based on his position.

More importantly, I think this further illustrates a problem Republicans in this state have yet to address. Their big tent holds two factions who worked together when they had Democrats as a common enemy, but who don't work well together in times of peace. The brash folks who tell it like they see it are always going to be a pain in the ass to the folks who think putting on a polite, reasonable face is important; and the brash folks are always going to see the cautious folks as uptight (at best) or hypocrites (at worst) — because they believe what the brash folks are saying but lack the courage to say it themselves.

I mean, think of it this way. Yes, Johnson was rude, but at least he acknowledged that the president of the United States was visiting the state. Was that really ruder than Gov. Haslam's not being there in Chattanooga? Republicans in Tennessee all seem to agree that being rude to the President is fine, but the disagreements over which types of rudeness are acceptable run bone-deep.

Really, Johnson is doing Tennessee Republicans a favor by framing this as being about his anti-Obama stance and not about whether he embarrassed the polite conservatives (though let's remember who actually has power in this state). But all it does is put off until another day the blow-up that's bound to happen due to these differences in approach.

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