In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 17, 2014 / 15 Adar II, 5774

The punchline is the president's dignity

By Jeff Jacoby

JewishWorldReview.com | A witless and undignified stunt? Or an amusing and effective public-relations exercise?

Opinions differed on Barack Obama's parody interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis on the website Funny or Die last week, and not just along party lines. Dan Pfeiffer, a top Obama strategist, told The New York Times that even within the West Wing there were debates about how unconventional the president could be in trying to promote his message to young people. Staffers joked that some of the more outrageous gambits "were going to give David Gergen a heart attack." Gergen, a longtime Washington insider who has advised presidents of both parties, most recently Bill Clinton, hasn't gone into cardiac arrest, but he did confirm that he's "no fan of presidents appearing on shows" like Galifianakis's. Mike McCurry, who spent four years as Clinton's press spokesman, likewise cautioned that Obama should "worry about the dignity of the presidency."

You know things are bad when even former Clinton loyalists think Obama is demeaning the nation's highest office.

The president went on Funny or Die to plug the Affordable Care Act and urge young adults to enroll at HealthCare.gov. Administration officials wasted no time declaring the show a success. Within hours after being posted, more than 9 million people had viewed it, and ObamaCare spokeswoman Tara McGuinness tweeted that it had become "the #1 source of referrals to HealthCare.gov," more than 32,000 before the end of the day.

Mission accomplished? Maybe so, but at the price of being mocked in a faux interview by a crude entertainer whose shtick involves insulting his guest with boorish questions. Where will Obama build his presidential library, Galifianakis asked, "in Hawaii or your home country of Kenya?" If Obama had a son, would he be interested in football or be "a nerd like you?" Affecting utter boredom as the president made a plug for ObamaCare, Galifianakis sighed: "Is this what they mean by drones?"

There was a time when presidents understood that their position demanded a certain gravity. That the nation's chief executive was not just another celebrity, but the custodian of unique constitutional authority. That when you live in the White House and fly on Air Force One and everyone stands when you enter the room, it isn't appropriate for you to pander to the lowest common cultural denominator.

Exactly where the line should be drawn has always been something of an open question. "I think the American public wants a solemn ass as a president, and I think I'll go along with them," Calvin Coolidge once said, explaining his taciturn style. Yet he didn't balk at donning a feathered Sioux headdress during a trip to South Dakota in 1927, overruling advisers who feared he would appear laughable. Remarked Coolidge: "Well, it's good for people to laugh, isn't it?"

In truth, most Americans don't want their presidents to be solemn asses. But they are expected to "maintain the dignity of office," as George Washington told James Madison, while simultaneously avoiding the "imputation of superciliousness or unnecessary reserve."

"I think the American public wants a solemn ass as a president, and I think I'll go along with them," said Calvin Coolidge. But he had a sense of humor, and saw no reason not to pose for cameras while wearing a feathered Indian headdress.

It's a balancing act, and as public mores evolve, so do notions of presidential propriety. For a long time presidents were especially careful to respect the "dignity of office." Their more recent successors take greater pains not to be accused of "unnecessary reserve." Harry Truman wore a coat and tie when he went out for his "daily constitutional." Bill Clinton and both George Bushes saw nothing wrong with publicly jogging in shorts and sweaty T-shirts.

But even in our anything-goes era, there ought to be limits. When Clinton, on MTV in 1994, was asked whether he wears "boxers or briefs," he should have responded with an icy stare, and called on another questioner. Instead, grinning, he revealed his preference in underwear.

That crossed a line that should have been inviolable, degrading not only Clinton but the respect owed to the presidency. Fourteen years later, when the same question was posed to candidate Obama, he knew better than to dignify it with a substantive response. "I don't answer those humiliating questions," he said.

He should have said exactly the same thing when he was asked to go on Galifianakis's insult-slinging interview show. It may have been a hip, edgy way to drive traffic to the ObamaCare exchange. But it also diminished the president and the nation he represents. There are better ways to get hits on a website.

Jeff Jacoby Archives

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist.

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