Saturday, March 21, 2009

Obama's Top 10 gaffes? Not this one

By Donald Sensing

Fair is fair - I have criticized the policies or pronouncements of President Obama when I thought appropriate, but here I call your attention to Toby Harnden's piece yesterday, "Top 10 gaffes by Barack Obama and Joe Biden." I'll not recount them here. Suffice to say that yes, they really are gaffes, which Harnden (a US-based reporter for the UK Telegraph paper) documents by including the YouTube videos thereof. But his fifth entry is this:

A Marine One double. First, on his maiden Marine One trip Obama breaches protocol and makes life uncomfortable for an enlisted marine by shaking the the serviceman's hand as he's saluting his commander-in-chief:
Here's the video:



Harnden links to a Foxnews story about how shaking the Marine's hand was a breach of protocol:
When President Obama boarded Marine One for his first flight as commander-in-chief, he decided to break from tradition. Departing from the South Lawn of the White House for a trip to Williamsburg, Va., the new president extended his hand to a U.S. Marine standing in salute at the base of the helicopter's steps.
What "tradition" did Obama depart from? The same piece goes on to say that no president, including retired five-star general D. D. Eisenhower, ever returned salutes of military personnel. This "tradition," such as it is, was begun by Ronald Reagan. In fact, I remember reading that Ike explained that saluting was a privilege only of those wearing the uniform.

Even so, it is the height nitpickery to criticize Obama for what this video shows. He did in fact return the salute, and I say (as a retired Army officer) that his return was darn well executed, too. Bill Clinton never did so well. Second, I have witnessed on many, many occasions a general officer return a salute and immediately offer his hand for a shake. I've done so myself, though for less ceremonial reasons than this. I also think it was a nice gesture for a new president to make when boarding Marine One for the first time. I don't expect him to make a habit, though. Were I that young Marine, I would have appreciated it. 

Get a grip folks. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms, even severe ones, to make of this president so far. Don't adulterate the impact of legitimate criticisms by making silly ones like this.

27 comments:

Greyhawk said...

Concur with you. No "there" there.

A salute is always initiated by a junior, but the level of formality/familiarity of a salute - which is an exchange (that word is key) of greeting, first and foremost - is established by the senior, within professional bounds of custom and courtesy. That's a perk for being in the senior position.

But there's more room within those bounds than many non-military folks know.

Anonymous said...

I took off the uniform for the last time some 30 years ago, and haven't been saluted since. But yeah, back in the day, a salute then a handshake was routine in informal settings.

As for the President's behavior, Ike was right. And in the video, the Marine's behavior was faultless.

rexxous said...

I think Toby Harden's picked some "gaffes" that are fairly innocuous, including this one. I've read Harden over the past few months, and he is decidedly on Obama's side on most issues. He was very anti-GOP during the '08 campaign. He picked some items that will have many UK readers scratching their heads, "What's bad about that?"

Anonymous said...

Protocol exists for a reason. It's purpose is to facilitate communication and reduce misunderstanding/errors. It's well within the President's purview to change the protocol as he sees fit. But that's not what happened here is my guess. Like the amateur actions displayed on several other occasions (gift exchange with the Brit PM) POTUS just walked out to the aircraft and winged it. Did anybody brief him? Who knows? I think you can make a case that just like the Clinton administration, the Obama administration does not "get" the military or it's culture nor does it probably desire to beyond what is necessary to avoid flak like this.

Anonymous said...

Nitpicky, perhaps, but revenge is sweet. G.W. Bush was hotly criticized for holding a salute while at the bedside of a wounded US Soldier. Bush saluted the soldier and held it while the soldier struggled with his wounds to return the salute to his commander in chief. Bush received the usual mockery for this as for everything he did, even when he was showing respect.

I also find it hard to accept the commander-in-chief as not considered to be "wearing the uniform" since none of our commanders in chief actually wear one, but they are still the commander-in-chief of all who do. Reagan may have started the tradition, and I'm sure he did it out of respect; it is a good practice. Obama should respect the men and women in uniform as well.

Phil said...

Hmm. I'm a former sailor and I can't stand the President, but I'm with you. I watched it a couple of times. The Marine was just a little suprised, that's all. It's not like he's going to get in trouble or anything. Salute, don't salute, nod your head, shake his hand. Whatever. Just because I don't like the President doesn't mean he's not the boss.

Just keep your hand out of my freakin' pocket.

Kalon Reeves said...

I'm not sure which to consider pettier, the initial gaffe criticism or the critique of the criticism.

Stephen said...

Agreed.

Greg said...

Thank you. There are many legit issues, but it always seem so petty to jump on these sort of things. All it does is take away from the real problems.

Anonymous said...

I disagree.
If you are interested in expressing thanks or gratitude to this relatively junior Marine, you do it privately. This Marine is currently doing the most stressful job in his young life I dare say. The whole time he is standing there, hundreds or thousands of eyes are upon him, and now his most senior officer has just broken protocol.
It wasn't illegal, but it was thoughtless and it points to Obama's lack of understanding of the military.

Anonymous said...

I concure, Mr. Lessing. I, too, put over 8 years in the Submarine Service.

An opinion/idea: how about that if a President is a veteran, he gets to render a salute, anent to the ideas expressed in Heinlein's "Starship Troopers".

When I attended a ballgame sporting my USS Will Rogers cover, my brother admonished me to remove my hat during the national anthem, as I was rendering a salute. "Nothing doing!", I whispered, "I earned this right and priviledge!"

inspectorudy said...

You can disagree with protocol if you want and you can point to examples where different methods of showing respect for a uniformed person is involved. But viewed in the over all context of Obama's lack of knowledge of protocol in any area it becomes more of a gaff. He projects an arrogance toward ALL symbols of authority and has shown on many different occasions that he respects no one. From women to fellow politicans. I think this is because he has been in a "Over throw the system" mentality since early college and his marxist friends. Look at who they are, Wright, Ayres, Rezko and his wife. All America haters.

tim maguire said...

I agree with you here. I come from a military family, but am not military myself. As a lifelong civilian, I would be uncomfortable saluting a soldier as I consider it an honor I haven't earned. And my self-consciousness might well have led me to screw it up.

Harnden didn't include any of the classic Obama moments from the campaign. Truly a treasure trove of foot-in-mouth disease there. Perhaps in a year there will be enough presidential fodder to compete with the Barack "57 state" one-man oops fest that was the media censored campaign, but not yet. Give him time, I suppose.

Cecil Turner said...

Concur it's the height of nitpickery, but technically the Corporal was at present arms and needed a command (e.g., "at ease") to make this proper. Coming directly to a handshake and then back to "Present" is obviously not correct (and if you really want to nitpick, the President returned the first salute but not the second).

Probably would've been more comfortable all 'round just to walk onto the helicopter, but I'd certainly agree this doesn't qualify as a "gaffe" . . . let alone a top ten.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. He is the CiC, if he wants to shake someone on his detail's hand, it isn't a breach of anything.

Anonymous said...

I'd thought at first the President shook the Marine's hand without returning the salute, but he did return it. While I (a retired Air Force NCO) understand the Marine's surprise at the unexpected handshake, Obama's action was not really a "gaffe," especially if taken in the context of his first trip on Marine One.

Reagan may have been the first President to return the salute, but that was nearly 30 years ago. I'd say by now it qualifies as a "tradition," and one that I as a military man like to see. Yes, the President is a civilian, but he is also the Commander in Chief and that office certainly warrants a salute.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is a good idea making an issue of it. It comes across as possibly amateurish maybe, but also a kindness to a junior Marine. Picking on him for an act of kindness will not go well on the public.

Lets not display the kinds of derangment that the left venomously generated against the last President.

Rod said...

As a matter of fact, I'd rather see POTUS shake the Marine's hand than salute, but that's because I'm a grouchy old sea service retiree (pardon the redundancy). Sensing has it exactly right: we can rely on the 44th President to up-screw bigtime, but this is not an example.

Mark said...

The argument can be made that the president is the one and only military figure who is in uniform no matter what he is wearing, business attire, bath robe, or birthday suit (arguably the preferred choice of Clinton). Reagan set a good tradition. Let's keep it.

rasqual said...

Veteran here. When I watched this one, I thought maybe he was going to do the Bubba gaffe -- when Clinton waved way, way to casually at the Marine. As I recall from watching that one years ago, I had the distinct impression that Bill must have said something like "Yo, how's it going, man?"

This one was picture-perfect, though. Not a gaffe at all. Nothing out of line. Obama frankly freaked me out a bit with how smartly he returned the salute -- yes, a Reagan thing and one I like a lot. The handshake was just fine, and if this Marine is a regular in Obama's company I reckon in the future he'll get a respectful salute on each such occasion -- sans handshake.

I can't stand having Obama as our president, for a lot of reason I think are being vindicated almost every day of late. But it just looks stupid to pick on the guy for something that isn't really a problem at all. It distracts from real critiques and makes some people wonder if it's just "any stick nearby is good enough to beat Obama with, for these people."

Anonymous said...

You want to perform a kindness?
Show up at the HMX 1 christmas party and shake EVERYONES hand. That is a kindness.

This was obama's tone-deaf attempt at noblesse oblige done in full site of the world.

All he did was make a Marine uncomfortable, and demonstrate to those of us who know about these things exactly how clueless our current POTUS is.

Brad said...

Obama just doesn't understand military decorum, but not a big deal. The Corporal salute was slow and ceremonial - the "present arms" someone else mentioned, instead of the quick chop of an ordinary salute. Obama saluted back, but in that posture, the Corporal is not allowed to cut salute until the POTUS is aboard the aircraft. I have some friends that were in HMX, the Marine Corps helicopter squadron that carries the President.

Doesn't seem to be much to it.

Brian said...

Good work. We don't have to lie about Obama like the lefties did about Bush.

Tom said...

I won't comment on the conduct of President Obama.

Let me simply suggest that the Marine displayed "grace under pressure", and handled the aberrational incident with calm, composure, and sound judgment. Just what we can safely expect from the outstanding young men who sacrifice so much to serve us all.

Vincetastic said...

This is totally not a big deal, blown way out of proportion. Thanks for the post though. Anyone can post their own to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

submandave said...

This whole "does the President salute or not" jazz caould have been a total non-issue if you Army types hadn't started that silly saluting while uncovered junk. USN/USMC rules are simple: if you're in uniform, covered and not in formation then salute; otherwise keep your hands down.

That aside, I wouldn't expect Pres. Obama to be particularly well versed in military etiquite. His handshake was obviously a well intended gesture and I'm sure the grunt, after a bit of surprise, took it that way. This particular entry should have been limited to the Fordesque noggin thumpin'.

Fred said...

Reading from "Tried by War, Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief" by James M. McPherson from the last photo next to page 175 in the hardbound edition; "As they passed in front of the reviewing stands near the White House, government officials, including the new president, Andrew Johnson, saluted the armed might of the republic..."

So it appears that Ronald Reagan wasn't the first President to render salutes while not in uniform...