by Robert Morrison
September 6, 2012
Not you, too, Bill Clinton! Thats what I wanted to yell when I saw this incredible scene on TV. Bill Clinton is shown bowing to President Obama at the Democratic National Convention.
It was bad enough when Barack Obama bowed to the odious King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in London just days after becoming president. That desert despot is one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Even our own State Department recognizes this much. There is no religious liberty in Saudi Arabia, their official reports have laconically statedfor years.
Americans dont bow. One of the most affecting scenes in our history occurred on April 4, 1865, in Richmond. For four years, Richmond had been the Confederate capital; it still smoldering from the fires set by retreating rebel soldiers. President Lincoln had waited four long and bloody years for this day. He had said: I want to see Richmond, and moved quickly to enter the Virginia city. An American flag flew over the State Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Accompanied only by his son, Tad, and a small detachment of sailors, the president walked to the Confederate White House and sat at the desk of Jefferson Davis. The Confederate president had fled the city less than forty-eight hours earlier.
Most white people stayed inside, behind shuttered windows. But free black people crowded around Father Abraham. One elderly black man knelt down in front of his Emancipator. No, Lincoln admonished him, this is not right. You should bow only before God and thank Him for your freedom.
This is a story that bears repeating. Americans should never bow to any foreign head of state. And we certainly can find more democratic ways to greet one another than bowing.
President John F. Kennedy faced an interesting situation in 1963. He was acutely aware that he was the first Catholic elected as our president. When he went to the Vatican to see the new PopePaul VIshortly after the College of Cardinals had elevated himKennedy knew what he should do. Normally, it is protocol for faithful Catholics to kiss the Popes ring, a sign of reverence for the man whom Catholics believe is the Vicar of Christ.
But President Kennedy recognized his role as constitutional leader of thisGreatRepublic. So he sat respectfully at the Popes right hand and did not bow. Later that year, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the tragic duty of receiving mourners at her husbands funeral. When numerous royal heads of state came through the White House, draped in funeral black crepe, Mrs. Kennedy did not bow.
Granted, George Washington bowed to dignitaries on the balcony of New Yorks Federal Hall on April 30, 1789, when he was inaugurated. And he bowed to the tens of thousands of American citizens who came to witness the first taking of the presidential oath.
But Washington was mildly rebuked by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and other republicans for aping this monarchical practice. They preferred a simple handshake to put distance between our new experiment in self-rule and those royal courts of Europe.
Democrats used to understand this. Franklin D. Roosevelt never bowed. Confined to a wheel chair as he often was, it would really not have been possible. When FDR played host to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in June, 1939, he not only did not bow to the British monarchs, he made a point of serving them hot dogs and beans at a Hyde Park picnic! The royals loved it.
Jimmy Carter showed an appreciation of American history when he was inaugurated. Following the taking of the oath and a thoroughly forgettable Inaugural Address on January 20, 1977, President Carter got out of his limousine and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the reviewing stands in front of the White House.
Carter did this to emulate the famous Inaugural walk of President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. I applauded Jimmy Carter for this fine action. (Come to think of it, its the last thing he did that I could applaud.)
So, please, can we remember we are Americans? We bow only to God!