Nov. 19, 2009
Once again, the Internet is alive with pictures of the President of the United States bowing low before some foreign monarch. Barack Obama first showed the world his behind as he bowed before the odious King of Saudi Arabia at a London summit last winter. That was bad. The king of Saudi Arabia rules a desert fiefdom where those who convert to Christianity are beheaded while the regime looks the other way. Bibles are banned. Jews are not allowed even to enter the country.
That bow was atrocious. But Obamas low bow before the Emperor of Japan over the past weekend was bad enough. Barack Obama apparently never memorized the Pledge of Allegiance as a boy. He has told us many times of his grade school education in Indonesia and how his devoted mother taught him U.S. constitutional law before dawn. Apparently, he never learned …and to the republic for which it stands…
To secure our Independence and to found a new republic, a country where We the people ruled, was the Glorious Cause for which the Founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. How actually to be republicans with a small r was not easy.
George Washington helped in countless ways to teach us patriotism, republicanism, and self-government. He is justly revered as the Father of our Country. But he wasnt right in every detail. When the new federal government commenced in New York City in 1789, the President and Lady Washington—as his devoted wife was called—held regular public levees. At these receptions, the ladies and gentlemen of New York society would enter and bow before the President and the First Lady. President and Mrs. Washington would bow to their guests.
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Representative James Madison were horrified by this ceremony. Didnt we just fight and win a revolution to be rid of such trappings of monarchy, they fretted.
Twelve years later, Mr. Jefferson walked to his own inauguration as our third President in the newly constructed Capitol in Washington, D.C. After that ceremony, he walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the freshly painted Presidents House. It was this First Citizens walk that the newly inaugurated Jimmy Carter re-enacted in 1977. That was the last of President Carters actions I could praise.
From Jefferson on, no bowing to Presidents. Andrew Jackson introduced a fascinating new chapter in the history of Presidential bows. At his raucous inauguration on March 4, 1829, the newly widowed Jackson bowed low before the assembled multitude. Clad all in black, his bow was dignified and stately. It confirmed the arrival of Jacksonian democracy.
Abraham Lincoln fought a long and desperate Civil War defending the idea that government of the people, by the people and for the people should not perish from the earth. When he visited Richmond, Virginia, in April, 1865, just days after Confederate leader Jefferson Davis fled the city, an old man rushed up to the President and bowed before him. This former slave saw Master Lincoln as his Moses. Lincoln gently admonished the old man: You must not bow to me. It is not right. Bow only to God, Lincoln said.
That was a good rule for Americans for more than a century. Prime Minister Winston Churchill met President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Augusta off Newfoundland in August, 1941. Churchill called the United States the Great Republic. When he approached the Commander-in-Chief, he bowed and handed FDR a letter of introduction from King George VI. Churchill hardly needed this. As a lifelong monarchist, however, he recognized that he was only the head of the government in Britain—the Kings first minister—whereas Roosevelt was Chief of State as well as head of government.
Churchill the half-American Briton understood the differences between republics and monarchies better than Barack Obama does.
When Churchill came to visit FDR in the White House in those stern days after Pearl Harbor, he was taken to worship at Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia. It was there, on New Years Day 1942, that he first heard The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Churchill loved the hymn so much that he decreed it should be played at his own funeral. It was. There, in St. Pauls Cathedral in 1965, Britains monarch stood and listened with thousands of mourners to hear the greatest of her subjects eulogized with a hymn to a republic.
Obviously, the President of the United States must deal at the highest levels with monarchs. No one expects our President to treat allies Chiefs of State with disrespect. Japan, unlike the tyrannical Saudi Arabia, has been a true and loyal U.S. ally since World War II.
The problem is that Barack Obama seems not to understand what a republic is and how the President of the United States should conduct himself when traveling abroad. This is not surprising. He thinks American history began with his election. He said his election would mark the time when the oceans ceased to rise. King Canute, a Danish king of England known for his wisdom, famously went to the seaside and commanded the tide not to rise. And laughed at his toady advisers when they and he got soaked. The problem today with Obamas abasement is that he degrades all of us and we all get soaked.