Aug. 12, 2010
The fashion columns and the political news seem to have joined efforts to comment on First Lady Michelle Obama's vacation trip to Spain's fabled Costa del Sol. The blogs show our elegant and stately First Lady having her hand kissed by King Juan Carlos. How charming. How wrong.
First, in defense of Mrs. Obama, let it be noted that she did not bow to the king. It's not as bad as what her husband did when he bowed to the odious King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last year. President Obama then became the first U.S. President in history to bow to a monarch. Americans should bow to no king, but nobody should bow to that king.
Second, while it's not that bad, it's still bad. We have been told endless times how highly educated the President and the First Lady are. That they are highly educated and highly intelligent there is no dispute.
But they could both use some basic lessons in how to represent the Great Republic on the world stage. To be seen bowing to kings and having your hand kissed by royals is wholly contrary to America's republican spirit. Small "r."
When Thomas Jefferson was presented to King George III in London, after American independence was assured, the king turned his back on the author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson waited patiently for 16 years. Then, when King George's ambassador to Washington came to the White House to present his credentials, President Jefferson received him wearing a dressing gown and down at the heels carpet slippers. Probably, Mr. Jefferson's pet mocking bird was in attendance to record the scene. Jefferson's point was not vengeance, it was to play down all pretentions to monarchy.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was happy to take Prime Minister Winston Churchill to church with him on New Year's Day, 1942. They attended worship services at Christ Church in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.Roosevelt had requested "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" be sung. Note the republic in the title.
Churchill, the lifelong monarchist, loved the tune. He immediately requested that it be included in his own funeral ceremonies--and it was in 1965.
But FDR was making an important point for the American people. Many of our people were very distrustful of kings and queens and the very idea of monarchs and empires. They grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, including the line :'...and to the republic for which it stands." Americans in those days did not all attend Harvard Law School, but they did know what a republic is.
And they understood why Americans don't bow to kings--or have their hands kissed by them.
Our First Family needs to spend more time with Americans. Pensacola, Florida, has plenty of Spanish history and culture. It has beautiful beaches. It has a great Navy aviation museum to rival Washington's Air and Space Museum.. It would have been the perfect place for our First Family to go on vacation. And better still, it's full of Americans.