The White House posted a video of President Barack Obama awkwardly saluting a Marine as Obama exited the presidential helicopter, Marine One. He did so while holding a styrofoam coffee cup, which he brought to his forehead as well. This sparked critical comments from Republicans, conservatives and veterans that Obama was showing disrespect for the military.
This is the epitome of a petty “Gotcha!” that guarantees sympathy for the President. I would be surprised if there are not examples of most Presidents botching return salutes, especially those, like Obama and Clinton, who had no experience in the military. (President Eisenhower presumably never had this salute problem.) Obama also was pretty pathetic when he had to throw out the first pitch in a major league baseball game. Oh, so what? Republicans really think that these deficiencies prove Obama is disrespectful of the military, or of the National Pastime? There are so many stronger indications.
Now, we all know that the President isn’t a baseball fan. He isn’t fond of the military, either, but using the salute to prove it is silly. He has cut the defense budget; he has ignored the advice of generals; he wasted the sacrifices of our forces in Iraq by pulling them out prematurely; he designated Bo Bergdahl as a hero when using that word to describe him is a slap in the face to military heroes who did not betray their fellow soldiers; and he paid no attention to the ongoing negligent treatment of wounded veterans by the Veterans’ Administration. Those symptoms of a lack of respect for the armed forces are real and worth noting. The salute?
On the other side, Obama’s defenders are similarly ridiculous. Every failure of this President apparently can be blamed on the man who preceded him (no other American leader has so relentlessly stooped to this graceless and lazy avoidance of accountability), so naturally, MediaMatters tracked down a photo of President Bush trying to salute while holding his Scotty in his arms. Just as I wonder if Republicans expected Obama to hurl his beverage to the ground, or perhaps douse himself while saluting as with Robert Hays’s “drinking problem” in “Airplane!”…
…I wonder what Democrats would have had Bush do. Throw the dog down?(The proper move is not to salute at all when you can’t do it properly.)
The salient point is this: nobody made a big deal out of Bush’s dumb salute because everyone, including those he saluted, knew that he respected the military. Obama’s salute was interpreted in the context of six years of demonstrable apathy and even contempt. Context is relevant. Still, it is just as likely that Obama saluted as he did because he was trying to be respectful, and just couldn’t pull it off. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Frankly, I can’t believe anyone, including me, is writing about this.