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The Bow And The Mao


Count me among the exasperated at Obama's willingness to bow before royalty - it's funny actually, that such an avowed progressive (the group that believes in dissolving the connections of power) is so willing to reify power by being so deferential to hereditary royalty.

And no, it's not a diplomatic custom (see this series at Hot Air Pundit), and it's not even Japanese custom (contrary to dimwitted claims to the contrary) - you don't shake his hand and bow, and the bow that Obama offered is certainly not the kind of Japanese bow between equals (see Wikipedia).

Obama seems to suck up to royalty that isn't on our side (Saudi Arabia) is marginally on our side (Japan) while snubbing those who have been among our core allies (Britain). So let's ask Obama to throw his protocol droid under the bus as well, and move along.

For those among my patriotic friends on the right who are so deeply distressed, let me offer this story - possibly the first encounter between an American citizen and foreign royalty (the contacts between Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and the French preceded the British surrender, and so one can make a claim that they were not yet truly American citizens).

John Adams was presented to King George as the first American Ambassador to the Court of St. James (from Page Smith's delightful John Adams biography)...
The Foreign Secretary then carried Adams with him in his coach to the court and ushered him to the antechamber, "very full of ministers of state, lords, and bishops, and all sorts of courtiers." The Dutch and Swedish ministers, perhaps noticing Adams' agitation came up to chat and in a few minutes Carmarthen returned to escort him to the King's closet. The door was closed after him and Adams found himself alone with the Killoro and the Foreign Secretary. He bowed the three times that etiquette required - at the door, again halfway into the room, and a third time standing directly before His Majesty. It was a strange and dramatic confrontation - two short, stout men, both rather choleric, stubborn and strong-willed, sharing a certain emotional instability and a native shrewdness and wit. They were both great talkers and both, in their hearts, farmers. They both lived in worlds where they felt frequently that every man's hand was turned against them. One was the King of the most powerful nation in the world, the other's permanent rank that of a provincial lawyer and farmer. It was the New England fanner who represented victory and the King who had been forced to accept defeat. The name of Adams, John or Samuel, had been a stench in the nostrils of George III for almost twenty years and now an Adams stood before him, ambassador from those colonies which not so long ago had been the King's special treasure.

Both men were agitated and ill at ease. Adams, obviously nervous, ("I felt more," he wrote later, "than I did or could express") delivered his speech as best he could and the King listened "with a most apparent emotion .. . very much affected" and replied with a tremor in his voice: "Sir...the circumstances of this audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is so extremely proper and the feelings you have discovered so justly adapted to the occasion, that I must say that I not only receive with pleasure the assurance of the friendly dispositions of the United States, but that I am very glad the choice has fallen upon you to be their minister. . . . I will be very frank with you," the King continued slowly, rather haltingly, searching out his words. "I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made, and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power." Then in a more informal spirit the King asked Adams if he had come most recently from France. "Yes, Your Majesty." The King gave his short, barking laugh. "There is an opinion among some people that you are not the most attached of all your countrymen to the manners of France." Adams was disconcerted at the remark, but he adopted the King's light air and answered: "That opinion, sir, is not mistaken; I must avow to Your Majesty I have no attachment but to my own country."

"A honest man will never have any other," the King replied.

The King spoke a few words to Lord Carmarthen and then turned and bowed to Adams, signifying that the audience was at an end. The American retreated, walking backward with as much grace as he could affect, bowed a last time at the door, and withdrew.
So it's quite possible to bow and speak frankly in defense of American interests.

Let's judge Obama less on the bowing and the dressing and pay more attention to the speaking.


"I must avow to Your Majesty I have no attachment but to my own country." "A honest man will never have any other," the King replied.

I wish I believed that Obama shared these sentiments.

Let's judge Obama less on the bowing and the dressing and pay more attention to the speaking.

The bowing has only underscored the speaking. If he had spent more time advocating his country instead of apologizing, the bows would be excused.

Showing a little respect, even if you havent' got the cultural thing quite dialed in, never hurt anyone.

I'm struck by a presumption that the president would have divided loyalty in representing our country. Now what could that be about? Kenya? But what would Kenya have to do with Japan? And what's this supposed lack of advocating for the country refer to?

Maybe someone can explain.

As to "I wish I believed Obama shared these sentiments" (referring to having no attachement but to the U.S.) This is no different than matters of blief in general. If you act and talk like you believe it will come. Try it, you'll like it. If a bunch of people do it it might even help the national dialogue.

I blew the first incident off, not wanting to seem-- frankly, not wanting to be, in my heart-- a reactionary, choleric idiot.

But I will not pretend that this does not rankle me. I will not bow or bend knee to any one, absent physical force dragging me down, nor can any man represent me adequately who would.

Civis Americanus Sum.

If you act and talk like you believe it will come.

Tell me, Tinkerbell, did you spend the Bush Administration wishing real hard that you believed he was doing the right thing?

As to the presumption of divided loyalty, America is an idea more than a place, and Barack Obama does not believe in the idea. That's why he doesn't show respect for us. He thinks that a certain kind of man is fit to rule over others - not to administer a limited government that provides certain necessary evils such as a military and otherwise does not interfere with the rights of free men to pursue their own interests, but to rule. He believes he is more fit to order the lives of other human beings than they are to do so for themselves.

To Obama, America is the worst place in the world, and everywhere else is superior to it. That's why he eagerly adopts the protocols of everywhere else he visits - fawning obsequiousness in front of kings and tyrants, grinning egalitarianism in Communist China.

I don't see why being a progressive should interfere with the idolization of hereditary power, though; certainly the progressives are comfortable with the Kennedys, Dodds, and Dingells.

This is the sort of thing that really gets noticed in Asia, where manners and symbolism are of vast importance.

The bow that Obama demonstrates is the sort that Filipinos, Chamorros, and other occupied folk were required to give to Japanese soldiers. If the bow was insufficiently deep, it might be deepened by a rifle butt.

The generation that remembers that is passing away, but the East has a longer memory than the West does.

Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being has a section called "A short dictionary of misunderstood words." It chronicles the different associations two lovers bring to words. Due to their different backgrounds and histories words like parades, music, etc. evoke very different emotions in each. It raises the question how well two people can really understand each other.

It often strikes me that many of the differences between NPR liberals and Fox conservatives represent misunderstandings that have their root in style, diverse associations with a vocabulary, and associations that something like a bow invokes, rather than in concrete substantive differences.

Seeing a bow as a capitulation, a loss of face, a sign of weakness suggests what, a certain revolutionary spirit, independence? Seeing a bow as a harmless form of courtesy suggests what? Perhaps more urbane associations? I'm sure others can do better here. But if it is true that much of politics may be explained by differences in style and associations we bring to words, and things like bows, then doesn't this suggest that too much invective and heat is wasted in this regard on all sides. A difference in style, experience and association that we bring to words should never be confused with a lack of good faith or having the best interest of the country at heart.

After having spent the first eight years of the new millenium casting aspersions on the American president and seeing everything he did and said (and didn't do and didn't say) in the worst possible light, it behooves us all to see our current president in the best possible light.

Indeed, more than a little balance is called for.

N'est-ce pas?

Barry, I assume that you're kidding, or posting too soon after a beer summit.

You know what would really shut up the people who say that Obama can't do anything right? If Obama would do something right.

I think there is a sort of assumption, hovering around the right and middle, that goes something like this: Given Obama's manifest failure in all things - all things - foreign and domestic, we should ignore Obama's repeated lapses of courtesy, taste, and basic human sensitivity. Otherwise criticism of little things will discredit criticism of important things.

Normally we forgive the small failings of men who otherwise do great things, but this is a Democratic president we're talking about, so nothing less than a total inversion of logic is called for.

I, for one, will remain open to the possibility of Obama doing good. He is currently repeating all of Clinton's mistakes, but Clinton went on to show that he could do something right now and then. I'm waiting for the now and then.

I'm struck by a presumption that the president would have divided loyalty in representing our country. Now what could that be about? Kenya?

That never occurred to me. I was thinking that Obama, like so many other leftist educated mediocrities, has a great affinity for some future, imagined America, but no love at all for the one that actually exists.

What people are only beginning to understand is that Obama-san wants people to bow to him. The old line media already do, but that's not enough.

Unlike the Chrysanthemum Throne, however, the auto-putative American Emperor is wearing only his birthday suit. Wherever he was born.

"If you don't support the president, you don't love the United States".

You know how often I heard this stupid phrase over the first 8 years. And yet how quickly it's ignored when it's not your guy. In the words of Jon Stewart. "You lost. Deal with it. It's supposed to taste like $#!*."

Now, I don't think you have to like Obama, or support him. I didn't like Bush, and made my feelings on him well known. BUT I NEVER SAID HE HATED AMERICA. That's a line I would never cross.

Jon Stewart is right. But Alchemist may be wrong.

You can't say Bush hated America because he didn't. His critics mostly fault him for loving it blindly rather than apologizing for its actions, relying on consensus from other nations, or grasping what they saw as its core problems. The other core charge leveled at W was believing everyone else in the world should also love it, and want what America is all about.

You may think that's stupid, or not, but his take on the country was always very clear.

Obama, steeped in Fanon and leftist ideology, may still love America. It's hard to see into a man's head.

But his ideology hates it with a white-hot passion that has displaced any semblance of reason or moral core. America is the Left's enemy #1, the (much-discussed) source of evil and oppression in the world, and (never-discussed) slayer of their god. That axiom is a better predictor of the Left's positions than any of the individual issues about which it purports to care, or the supposed tenets that underlie its doctrine.

That a leftist President, who spends a lot of time abroad telling people that America is wrong, should have his feelings about America questioned... that is a valid thing to wonder about, and has zero to do with winning or losing.

I didn't like Bush, and made my feelings on him well known. BUT I NEVER SAID HE HATED AMERICA. That's a line I would never cross.

Well, of course not. That would be like accusing Marxists of supporting school vouchers.

When you go all demented on a Republican president, you're supposed to say that he hates black people, causes hurricanes, and poisons schoolchildren with arsenic because he thinks it's funny. Etc.

But you say you would never cross the Hate America line - never cross it with whom? Never cross it with someone who holds the office of POTUS? How far does that circle of exemption extend?

Eisenhower bows to the Pope. Sad thing, that Little Green Footballs is showing more sense that WoC on this.

As usual, A.L., mostly on the money.

Might the combined handshake-bow, (which I've seen before in business, but not diplomatic contexts), have been intended, however ham-handedly, as as "democratic man's version" of the bow? (I'm guessing that traditional Japanese protocol does NOT include shaking the Emperor's hand...)

Which leads me to the thought that the random noise introduced into the observance by the substantial height differential between Obama and Akihito may have further bolloxed the gesture up. . .

AJL - what? Help me understand your critique.


I'm not sure what Bush's true feelings about USA are, but one thing I feel confident about is that he loves oil and all that it brings - power, status and riches. I am sure if he was born in Africa he might love diamonds, and if he was born in the US 150 years ago I am sure he would love gold (etc, etc).

I suppose the depth of Obama's bow was deeper, but by now there are links all over of Ike bowing to the Pope, Nixon leaning over to greet the Queen, etc.; it's hard not to see this as a meaningless "nontroversy". I mean, at least Obama didn't barf all over the Emperor.

How far does that circle of exemption extend?

I prefer to start from the point that every politician and pundit starts the political process with good intentions. Now, those intentions do seem to get watered down. Still, politics wouldn't be cantankerous if people didn't care.

I think that even those who break the oaths of office. Nixon (or Gordon Liddy, if you prefer) did so since it was the only way to ensure the "best path" for the nation. Clearly, this is an example where best intentions fracture the purpose of our nation.

But a simple bow isn't going to do it. We've got enough things to worry about it. Why waste time on this?


I think was AJL is saying is that he agrees with you and is criticizing most of the fevered comments here.

And I trust, by the way, that even though this rankles me on a personal level, that I am not interpreted as thinking that:

-- Obama wants everyone to bow to him,
-- Obama hates America,
-- Obama wants to prostate America before the world,

because I don't. I do, however, think that Obama either underestimates the importance of these gestures, or is trying to send one signal but sending another.

I still don't like it.

In his first year of office, President Obama and his administration have had several protocol gaffes. The gifts to British Prime Minister, the Queen of England, and this are all examples. There are people in the government who's job it is to make sure these things don't happen. Is the President not listening to these people? Is he not learning what what they are telling him? Does he think he knows what to do better than they do?

Once I could understand. Twice space far apart well things happen. But this is happening time and time again. I don't know what to say.

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