- - Sunday, March 13, 2016

Yogi Berra, the philosopher-king of baseball, once observed that “you have to go to your friends’ funerals, or they won’t come to yours.” Who could argue with the logic of that? Indeed, only umpires argued with Yogi, and never about manners and decorum, just about balls, strikes, and maybe the infield-fly rule.

Presidents don’t have to worry because, like Yogi, there will be no shortage of mourners on that sad, and we hope distant, day when the inevitable summons comes for Barack Obama, as to us all, to join that innumerable caravan to eternity. He’ll have a full house. Presidents always do.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama is getting a lot of flak for skipping the funeral for Nancy Reagan, and just before that, the funeral for Antonin Scalia. This president likes to boogie, and he skipped the service for Mrs. Reagan at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley to make the keynote address at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, where he could boogie to music and fun with techies from Silicon Valley and other valleys where digits reign.

“Say what you will about President Obama,” said one critic on the website of Young Conservatives, “but it’s hard to argue with the fact that he’s probably the most disrespectful and classless individual to ever occupy the White House.”

Well, we don’t think it’s particularly hard to argue with that. They said similar things about Andrew Jackson (and indeed are still saying them.) Mr. Obama has done a lot of things that we don’t like, but a president’s declining to pay his respects at the funeral of every distinguished American is not a breach of manners. He did, in fact, pay his respects to Justice Scalia’s passing at the Supreme Court, and first lady Michelle Obama flew to California to honor Mrs. Reagan.

Politics if not decorum might have dictated the president’s attending the Scalia funeral, which was only a short drive from the White House, and the cops do a good job of shutting down traffic for presidents. He sent the vice president and Mrs. Biden to the Roman Catholic service, and given the controversy over whether Mr. Obama’s choice for a Scalia successor should get a prompt hearing, some of the president’s friends and allies were puzzled that Mr. Obama passed up a chance to make a gesture of political respect before the storm in the Senate.

Presidents often skip funerals for former first ladies, and there’s no firm precedent for attending the services for a Supreme Court justice who dies in office, because not many do. George W. Bush spoke the eulogy for Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 2005, and the previous justice who died in office was Robert H. Jackson a half-century earlier.

Precedents for the funerals for presidential widows are mixed. Mr. Obama didn’t attend the funeral for the widow of President Gerald Ford, a Republican, and neither did President George W. Bush make it to the services for the widow of Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat. Funerals are what vice presidents are for. Still, it’s reassuring that someone cares about customs and manners in an age when anything goes. Yogi would be pleased.


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