To the White House’s chagrin, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is proving to be more fox than hen, despite his avian nickname.
Months after an anonymous White House administration official bestowed the moniker “chickens**t” to the leader of the U.S.’s closest Middle Eastern ally, Netanyahu is planning a March visit to the United States that will bypass the White House entirely.
Aghast at such effrontery (the PM’s circumvention of the executive, not the excremental name-calling, which is peachy), White House officials have once again jettisoned not only their pocket companions to the Constitution, but their bookstore-issue Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour, famously transcribed by young George Washington as a homework lesson.
“In writing or Speaking, give to every Person his due Title According to his Degree & the Custom of the Place.”
Paraphrased for White House: If you don’t have anything nice to say about the man staving off a nuclear Holocaust, it’s still in poor taste to slur him … and leak it.
Good advice for young George—and us. And it gets better. Like constitutional clauses, the Rules of Civility inform each other, allowing readers to test for violations as they discover other gems. The above, for instance, is buttressed by No. 48:
“Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.”
Paraphrase for White House: Don’t be a hypocrite; practice what you preach (especially when accusing Netanyahu–er, Chickens**t–of poor diplomacy).
White House officials may be rude–but are they wrong? Actually, Press Secretary Josh Earnest rightly describes Netanyahu’s actions as a “departure from protocol.” Typically, he says, “the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he is traveling there.”
It also is typical, however, for the Obama administration to forget that in the United States, although the president is the ranking individual, the executive branch is co-equal to the other branches in law and in leadership. That means that Netanyahu did indeed contact the country’s leader–not a mere man, but Congress itself–when accepting the invitation of Speaker Boehner.
Pretending for a moment that size does matter, President Obama trumps Speaker Boehner. Period. It would be asymmetrical for Netanyahu to meet unilaterally with the speaker or other members of Congress.
But Netanyahu isn’t meeting with the speaker (except incidentally).
He is addressing both houses of Congress in a joint session. That’s 535 legislators, to be precise, whose “Laws … shall be the supreme Law of the Land,” when passed “in Pursuance” of the Constitution (Article VI).
Size matters here, too.
It cannot be said that the executive branch trumps the Legislative. True, President Obama is fortunate to occupy a position virtually synonymous with his branch, and should be accorded due honors. True, he is the country’s chief diplomat in foreign relations. But as the incarnation of a co-equal branch, he is no more the gatekeeper for Congress’s decisions and guests than Congress is for his. And if the president’s brazen expansion of executive power during his terms says anything, it is that Congress is not his gatekeeper.
For once, Congress has learned that turnabout is fair play.
So before his staff resumes berating Congress or besmirching Israel’s prime minister, the president would do well to float Rule No. 41 in a memo:
“Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Professes. It Savours of arrogance.”