|President Obama saluting the Marine honor guard with coffee cup in hand, September 23, 2014. Photo from the White House's Instagram's account, public domain/fair use claimed.|
I'm doing something different with this post. Usually, I write about the stuff going on in my life or historical references. (I like to think of myself as a hobby historian.) However, for this one (my 151st published post) I am going to wade into a current story that has gotten a fair amount of news coverage and a WHOLE lot of attention on social media.
I'm talking about the President's salute from Tuesday, September 23rd. Long story short: President Obama walked off the helicopter with a cup of tea (I presume as I understand he does not drink coffee) and instead of switching the drink to his left hand, performed the awkward and I'll add incorrect salute with the drink still in his hand.
Full disclosure- I voted for the guy, twice. I also have a military connection. I mention this as it gives the background of my thoughts on this issue.
First off, the President's salute was wrong. Even the newest recruit in basic training knows you do not salute with anything in your hand. It looked amateur and gave the President's critics (I hear there are a few out there) yet another reason to criticize him.
For folks who have not been in the military, this may be no big deal. For those who are, were, or had/have family members serving, this is a truly big deal. As The New York Times aptly put today, "For veterans of a military that prides itself on discipline and strict adherence to protocol, it (the salute) was careless at best and disrespectful at worst."
When I first heard this story, I thought the press pool picked it up and ran with it. Nope. The White House inexplicably released the video on their Instagram page. Wow.
Here's how the President's spokesman, Josh Earnest, dealt with the story today: (quoting from the same The New York Times article) "'The president has the highest amount of respect for men and women in uniform, and he has the highest amount of respect for the men and women who are responsible for operating the presidential helicopter,' Mr. Earnest said, noting that there were 'countless' images of the president saluting service members."
I agree. I have seen him salute properly plenty of times. I also believe that President Obama meant no intentional disrespect. Some of you reading may feel otherwise.
And President Obama is not the first President to find himself in a salute-compromised moment. Please see below:
|President Bush saluting with his dog, Barney. Photo P Photo/Susan Walsh, file, fair use claimed|
I'm guessing that President Bush probably wishes he would have handed Barney off before coming off the plane, Air Force One. Yet as I think about it, maybe not. From what I've read about President Bush, he took a great deal of comfort from his dog. If anyone deserved that comfort, it's the President.
If anyone is thinking that I am comparing Bush's dog to Obama's cup, I'm not. It's like comparing apples to Volkswagens. But here is the comparison: Both these gentlemen had/have incredible responsibilities to address every day. It's ironic that the office of the presidency comes with awesome powers and yet are often powerless to effect countless events around the world or around the block. Sure, there are staff and experts and high tech stuff all around them. Yet at the end of the day the burden is the President's alone to carry. So when our President does something awkward or dumb, let's cut him (and maybe someday her) some slack.
I also think this story is an opportunity for us to take a moment and look at the situation from another point of view. So here's what I would ask:
If you're a conservative and are furious at the President's poor salute, please give him the benefit of the doubt. He's got a lot going on, even if you don't approve of how he's doing it.
Now for my liberal friends who think the salute is no big deal, please note that for many people a salute is a big deal, a HUGE deal. It's a sign of respect and tradition. It matters. True, the junior salutes the senior. Yet the senior is to return the salute. It's a way that military people connect.
I know this post is getting a bit long in the tooth, but I'm going to share a quick story about why a returned salute means so damn much.
It's August in Arizona, Phoenix to be precise. I am on my way to court and despite leaving in ample time, I am running late. It seems as if some big wig is in town and the roads are blocked. Damn it.
So I park several blocks away from the courthouse and I'm jogging in a suit and man is it hot. I'm sweating like a lady of the evening in a house of worship and cursing whomever is the cause of my misfortune.
I am passing the civic center when I see an older, more like elderly, man walking towards me. I see something glimmering around his neck. At first I thought it was a piece of Native American jewelry or perhaps a big bolo tie. Nope. As I get closer, I see what it is the man's wearing.
It's the Congressional Medal of Honor. I am in the presence of a living American hero. Although I was not in uniform, I stopped and saluted him. It is in the regulations that any CoM recipient is to be saluted, regardless of rank. So I did.
For a moment, he stared at me. I wasn't sure if he was going to return it. Then I saw his right arm slowly rise and he returned it. It meant the world to me.
Here's the rest of that story. The reason the roads were blocked off was due to Vice President Cheney's appearance at the national American Legion convention in Phoenix. As I was walking by the Civic Center, this gentlemen was heading that way.
Here's a quiz to close out this blog post:
Barack H. Obama is:
A. The President and Commander in Chief;
B. Someone who should conduct himself with proper protocol at all times;
C. A fellow human being with the weight of the world on his shoulders; and
D. All of the above.
I think you can guess my choice and my answer would be the same for President Bush when he was in office. I hope this is your answer as well.
Be well my friends,