When President Barack Obama called Pittsburgh last week, some came running while others stayed home.
I admire more the one who said thanks but no thanks.
The first call Obama's staff made went to Pamela Cohen and Gail Klingensmith who own Pamela's P & G Diners, famous throughout Pittsburgh for its pancakes.
Obama sampled them in April 2008 when he made a campaign stop in Pittsburgh's Strip District.
Cohen and Klingensmith's special recipe stayed on Obama's mind. So when on Memorial Day he had a hankering for the pancakes, Obama sent the word out to invite them to the White House to cook him breakfast.
And off they dutifully went. [Pamela's Pancakes Rise to the Occasion, by David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 25, 2009]
Of more interest, however, the Pittsburgh Steeler's NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison refused to join his fellow players when Obama invited the team to the White House for another Memorial Day celebration.
Even casual football fans recognize Harrison as the Steeler who set a Super Bowl record by a defensive back when he ran an interception a 100-yards for a touchdown during last year's championship game. (Watch it here.)
This isn't the first time Harrison passed up a chance to meet the president.
When George W. Bush summoned the Steelers after their 2006 Super Bowl victory, Harrison skipped that one too.
After offering up a couple of nonsensical reasons for not going—like he's afraid to fly or the White House is in an unsafe neighborhood—Harrison defended his position with this simple statement that he made to Pittsburgh station WTAE-TV: "I don't feel the need to go, actually. I don't feel like it's that big a deal to me." [Steelers' Harrison Won't Visit Obama, Associated Press, May 18, 2009]
Explaining himself further, Harrison said the invitation shouldn't have any significance to the Steelers since, if the Cardinals had won the Super Bowl, "He [Obama] would have invited Arizona."
Local sports writers reprimanded Harrison by saying that even if he didn't care for politics, the office of the president still commands the respect of all Americans.
Columnist Ron Cook described himself as "greatly offended" and called Harrison "a disrespectful fool." [Harrison's White House No-Show Disrespectful, by Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 24, 2009]
Cook's take caught my eye.
Certainly a subtle distinction exists between the president and the office of the president. The former is an elected individual who will never be popular with all Americans. The latter refers to the lofty position held by the leader of the free world. The difference between the two has grown blurry over the last several administrations.
Let's play word association. If I say Lyndon B. Johnson; you say Vietnam; Richard Nixon, Watergate; Jimmy Carter; hyper-inflation, recession, energy crisis and Iran hostage crisis; George H.W. Bush, "read my lips"; Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky; and George W. Bush, Iraq War.
Among the last seven administrations, only Ronald Reagan might immediately call to mind positive accomplishments. And I underline might.
The problem is that our presidents are members of a professional American sub-group that automatically generates cynicism. What presidents say in the afternoon directly contradicts what they said in the morning.
Given that, it's hard to get all warm and fuzzy at the idea of meeting any of them—including Obama— face-to-face.
I tip my hat to Harrison. Apparently, he has better things to do than sit for Obama photo-ops.
In addition to my broad question asking whether Americans are required to answer every presidential call, I'd like to know who paid for these visits.
Normally, the host foots the bill. If that's the case, over Memorial Day you picked up the tab for Obama's made-to-order pancake breakfast and his Steeler glad-handing session.
Remember that Washington D.C. has dozens of good pancake houses. And as for the Steelers, if Obama hadn't invited the team no one would be wondering why the they hadn't been summoned to the White House.
Given the overall state of the economy, passing unnecessary travel expenses to the taxpayer is, to say the least, inappropriate.
Opinions will differ on what a citizen's responsibility include. What I can say without hesitation is that if I were invited, I would politely decline.
Call it one man's silent protest against government ineptitude.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.