Once again, the shrieking outrage over a photograph of President Barack Obama saluting with a cup of coffee in his hand as he steps off Marine One reveals that there is nothing too small or trivial but that the American right won’t throw a giant hissy fit over it.
It’s all very amusing — until you realize what it says about the state of right-wing thinking.
By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the photo: President Obama, on his way to the U.N., stepping off the helicopter, flanked by saluting Marines on either side. He has his coat slung over one arm and is returning the salute with, horror of horrors, a cup in his hand.
Of course, the right-wing hysteria machine, apparently made up of people who have nothing better to do than comb through every photograph of the president looking for something to be apoplectic about, leapt immediately into action.
“How disrespectful was that?” Republican strategist Karl Rove asked. Half-Term Governor Sarah Palin mocked Obama’s lack of military service in a speech to a “Christian values” convention, a speech in which she also identified the president’s home address as “1400 Pennsylvania Avenue” — actually the address of a park next to the historic Willard Hotel. (It should be noted that neither Rove nor Palin served in the military.)
The National Republican Senatorial Committee even created a website — yes, an entire website — to protest.
Thing is, the president isn’t required to salute at all, and in this situation probably shouldn’t have. According to the regulations published by the Department of the Army (and available online), a salute isn’t required when “carrying articles with both hands” and “when either the senior or the subordinate is wearing civilian clothes.”
In addition, for 192 years of our nation’s history, presidents (including war heroes like Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower) didn’t return the salute at all. The practice originally started with Ronald Reagan, who apparently ran around saluting everything in a uniform.
When a Marine aide let him know that that wasn’t standard protocol, Reagan went to the commandant of the Marine Corps, who told him, “You’re the [bad word] president. You can salute whoever you want.”
Of course, you can just imagine the howling that would have ensued if Obama hadn’t saluted at all. Or if, like the President Who Must Not Be Named, he was photographed, several times, saluting while holding his Scottish terrier in one hand. That’s different, we’re told by the Raging Right. Because — just because it is, OK?
So what next? Will Darell Issa convene hearings on “Latte-gate?” Will there be subpoenas demanding to know if the president took cream or sugar, and if so, was it an American brand? Will there be a breathless (and quickly debunked) expose on “60 Minutes”?
“Tonight on ‘60 Minutes,’ some guy you’ve never heard of who claims to have been a barista on Marine One has written a book in which he details his harrowing experiences on Sept. 23, 2014. He tells us how he would have heroically taken the cup from the president’s hand himself, but received a ‘stand down order’ for some reason we don’t know, but which we know is somehow Obama’s fault. I’m Lara Logan, and am as baffled as you are as to why I still have a job.”
More likely, “latte” will became the new “teleprompter”: a word wingnuts randomly drop into any conversation about the president in an attempt to craft a clever insult that only serves to point out how mindless and ill-informed the person delivering it actually is.
Example: “Wow, did you hear some guy jumped the fence and broke into the White House?” “Yeah, Obama was so surprised he nearly dropped his latte. Get it? Latte! HAW HAW HAW!”
It’s important, the wingnuts say, because it shows a pattern. They’re right, but not in the way they think. The real pattern is this: The right has certain narratives, certain themes they cling to. In this case, the theme is “Obama hates the military.” This is patently absurd, as anyone outside the right-wing anti-information bubble knows. But the truth doesn’t matter to these people. Any information that contradicts the narrative is rejected. Anything they come across, no matter how minor, is warped to fit the theme.
Fix the facts around the theory, instead of the other way around. Sound familiar? That’s the right-wing mindset that got us into the Iraq War. And that’s where it stops being amusing.