Salute! … It’s Nothing Personal

By David Lewis

Early indications of President Obama’s now famous Latte Salute can be found in the following vignette, from an essay I wrote in February 2009:

I recall President George H.W. Bush telling of how, prior to his inauguration, he asked outgoing President Ronald Reagan if he had any advice to pass along. One of the things Mr. Reagan told Mr. Bush was, “Learn to salute.”

This past week I’ve seen images of President Obama coming into contact with U.S. military personnel. Each time the image has been of a soldier standing at attention, saluting the commander-in-chief. Each time Obama’s response has been to refrain from returning the salute, choosing instead to extend his right hand to shake the soldier’s hand, and his left hand to pat the soldier’s arm.

It all strikes me as overtly casual, as opposed to being genuine. And though it may seem a small thing, I believe it matters greatly. Each time I’ve seen Mr. Obama make the gesture, I’ve also seen the soldier’s face look noticeably awkward, a fleeting moment of confusion, of uncertainty.

Answering the salute of a subordinate acknowledges that in the military there is an absolute necessity for a strong chain of command, and that everyone who is a link in that chain must convey his or her respect for it. It’s professional, not personal, and that’s where Obama stumbles.

It was sage advice that Ronald Reagan rendered to George Bush. Mr. Obama should take it to heart.



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