Barack Obama is taking the nation to war on his own terms yet again. It is not the first time he has done so, but so many in the press are determined to believe that the war in Iraq and Syria has transformed Obama into war president. The new fight will be a complex campaign which, while necessary, is being waged in a fashion that often appears to elevate domestic political considerations over operational necessities. That is a terrible way to fight a war, and it merits criticism. It is that legitimate criticism Obama’s defenders would prefer to avoid addressing.
The press was handed one such opportunity, though a passing one, when the White House promoted a photograph of the president emerging from Marine One and saluting his Marine guard with a coffee cup in his right hand.
Many on the right were incensed over this display of callousness. And let’s make this point clear: the right’s frustration is justified.
U.S. Army veteran Kurt Schlichter (who authored a phenomenal book, The Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle to Take America Back 2009 – 2041, which you should read) explained that “that the greatest obligation is on the senior officer to return a salute properly.” Obama’s was, he added, a display of cultural insensitivity, though it was one which offended those who revere the only culture the left dismisses: military culture. By failing to transfer the cup to his free hand, the president offered a lazy gesture rather than a show of respect for those American service personnel he commands.
It is not so much to ask, these veterans suggest, that the civilian commander of U.S. armed forces learn to observe even rudimentary military custom. Famously, former President Bill Clinton underwent a crash course on how to salute properly as he had never served in uniform before taking office. Obama never underwent such training. However, liberals also have a point when they note that this is a relatively recent tradition, and that military men like Dwight Eisenhower refused to salute servicemen as he was no longer serving in uniform.
Conservatives’ criticisms are valid, but they are also not immediately apparent to the vast majority of civilians who have never served. This includes nearly the entire political media complex. Out of ignorance (and perhaps some fealty toward the president), they see the criticisms of Obama on matters like these as trite, baseless, and rooted in a pathological hatred. What’s more, they are not ashamed to say as much.
For evidence of this phenomenon, look no further than how CNN handled the story on Wednesday:
“Some Americans are spewing bile at America’s commander-in-chief,” CNN news anchor Carol Costello introduced a segment on the controversy. She conceded that the latte salute “looks really bad,” optically at least, “but what followed was just dumb.”
She noted that she could find it in herself to “accept” comments from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who apologized to the country on behalf of the president, but she ripped an author on Red State who took the opportunity to also mock the first lady’s dress.
CNN media analyst Brian Stelter observed in the panel segment which followed Costello’s monologue that he knew “for a fact” the White House wishes it had not prompted this moment on its Instagram account. “But the derangement that we see from some of the conservative media coverage of this is really fascinating to me,” he added.
Stelter cited by way of derangement a clip of Fox & Friends in which the hosts largely conceded that Obama was not intentionally offending those for whom proper salutes are of critical importance. Stelter added that Obama is primarily a tea drinker.
“Obviously, we have to impeach him,” Democratic consultant Paul Begala mocked to the chortles of his fellow panel guests.
Costello submitted, not without some legitimacy, that President George W. Bush was famously photographed saluting Marines with his unobstructed right hand while cradling his dog in his left. It is an image the left is utterly convinced vindicates their indifference toward Obama’s disrespectful display, but in fact it only further proves that they do not understand the gravity of this episode. To equate these two moments is to display ignorance about why veterans or service personnel were offended.
The casual viewer was not informed by this segment, but they were goaded into believing that conservatives are unreasonable and consumed with trivialities. That’s not an accident.
Do conservatives who are offended by Obama’s callousness have a point? Of course they do. Do some, like those who decide that this is a moment to call the first lady a “thing” while leveling this criticism, detract from their own credibility and that of their argument? Yes, and the liberal press will giddily promote the latter to avoid legitimizing the former.
Conservatives are understandably weary of confronting the double standard in the press that treats their concerns as novelties based on prejudicial hatred of the president. Liberal’s concerns, meanwhile, are rarely dismissed off hand in the same fashion. But as I’ve said before, a double standard is a standard nonetheless.
Conservatives will have to learn to more skillfully navigate the unfavorable media environment or be swamped by it. Angrily shaking a fist at the biases in which media narratives are founded hasn’t been working out so well.