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Jan Brewer vs. Obama: Can you respect the presidency but insult the president?

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wagged her finger at President Obama. NHL player Tim Thomas boycotted a White House ceremony. Is the country 'losing basic courtesy and grace'?

By Staff writer / January 26, 2012

President Barack Obama speaks at a UPS facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, Thursday January 26, 2012. Obama used the event to talk about American energy and liquefied natural gas.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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It was the finger wag seen ‘round the world. Or at least arcing across the blogosphere.

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer seeming to lecture President Obama on the tarmac. Mr. Obama pivoting away from Ms. Brewer, apparently before she’d had her full say on immigration.

“It looks like she’s giving him the business,” said Doug Luzader of Fox News.

Immediately the question became: Was Brewer showing disrespect for the presidency, or merely engaging in brief spirited debate with a fellow politician over one of the hottest issues in an election year?

IN PICTURES: Race in America

“With all due respect” has been a cliché forever, usually uttered just before the rhetorical knife gets inserted.

Like the other night when Herman Cain (remember him?) was giving the “tea party response” to Obama’s State of the Union speech.

“With all due respect, Mr. President, some of us aren’t stupid,” Mr. Cain said, finishing the sentence with a phrase that could be considered insulting.

“Politics ain’t beanbag,” humorist Finley Peter Dunne’s fictional Mr. Dooley said back during the early 20th century, and from ridicule to assassination, presidents always have been the brunt of attack.

Abe Lincoln was portrayed in cartoons of the day as ape-like – long before Barack Obama got the same treatment at some early tea party rallies. George W. Bush’s image frequently mirrored the all-ears “What, me worry?” kid on the cover of Mad magazine.

But Obama – the nation’s first African American president – seems to have endured more of that.

Three years after his election, he’s still battered by “birthers” challenging the legitimacy of his presidency – most recently in Georgia, where Republican state lawmakers this week are trying to have him removed from the state’s March 6 primary election ballot based on the charge that he is not a natural born US citizen.

There may have been raucous responses to presidential addresses to Congress in the past, but it was Obama who had to hear Rep. Joe Wilson (R) of South Carolina shout “You lie!” in 2009 as the president spoke about health care. (Wilson later apologized, sort of.)

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