Matt Drudge and The Weekly Standard highlight CBS News' Mark Knoller noting that Obama failed to return the salute of a Marine while boarding the Marine One helicopter.
Without looking it up I will assert that, based on my recollections of related coverage from the Clinton era, Presidents, as civilians, are not supposed to be saluting anyone. Of course, there is military protocol and there is Presidential custom - my further recollection is that Presidents do in fact routinely return salutes, and some Presidents manage it better than others.
So are we thumping Barry for inadvertently getting it right? For being a literalist instead of following tradition? Or is my memory utterly askew? Or has the protocol been changed since Clinton (yet another 9/11 effect?). So many questions.
Over to Google...
REASSURING: My steel trap is not fully rusted out yet:
Longstanding tradition requires members of the military to salute the
president. The practice of presidents returning that salute is more
recent — Ronald Reagan started it in 1981.
Reagan’s decision raised eyebrows at the time. Dwight Eisenhower, a former five-star general, did not return military salutes while president. Nor had other presidents.
Reagan reportedly discussed this with the commandant of the Marine Corps, who said that Reagan was the boss and a gesture of respect was fine. Clinton was mocked for his early efforts and naturally Bush 43 was criticized:
The debate over saluting has persisted, with some arguing against it for protocol reasons, others saying it represents an increasing militarization of the civilian presidency.
“The gesture is of course quite wrong: Such a salute has always required the wearing of a uniform,” author and historian John Lukacs wrote in The New York Times in 2003.
“But there is more to this than a decline in military manners,” he added. “There is something puerile in the Reagan (and now Bush) salute. It is the joyful gesture of someone who likes playing soldier. It also represents an exaggeration of the president’s military role.”
Garry Wills, the author and Northwestern University professor, echoed those remarks in the Times in 2007.
“The glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements,” he wrote.
Very interesting. Since this incident comes the day after Obama's drone speech and his expression of hope that the war on terror will not be endless, maybe we are seeing an attempt by Obama to de-militarize the Presidency. That would actually be newsworthy, rather than thump-worthy.
Obama did return to shake the Marine's hand. If he wants to substitute some other gesture of respect for the salute, that might fly with people. However, I would not advise any President, but especially one with a reputation for cool aloofness, to adopt a new practice of striding past servicemen and women without acknowledging them.