Obama coffee-cup salute: 'Big deal' or 'so what'?

On Tuesday, President Obama held a coffee container while performing a kind-of salute to a Marine guard while exiting the presidential helicopter. Partisans are now weighing in.

Larry Downing/Reuters
President Obama arrives at the White House in Washington after flying from Baltimore aboard Marine One, September 12, 2014.

President Obama stirred up a cupful of controversy on Tuesday by holding a coffee container while performing a kind-of salute to a Marine guard while exiting the presidential helicopter in New York City.

(Note to readers: We will refrain from further beverage-related puns in this piece. It’s admittedly frothy. But it’s hard to resist.)

Since then, the image of Mr. Obama with his Starbucks-style paper cup has ricocheted around the Internet faster than you can say “tan suit.” The photo, distributed by the White House itself on its Instagram feed, is pretty nice as a pure image. Obama’s descending the short flight of steps with his shoulders back, wearing sunglasses, in bright sunshine. And no, he’s wearing a blue suit – not that tan one that got him in so much trouble.

But members of the military salute the president in such settings: After all, he’s the commander in chief. Since Ronald Reagan, presidents have customarily returned this salute, although they don’t have to.

Mr. Reagan loved saluting. That’s not surprising, given his acting background. He taught Bill Clinton how to salute, did you know that? Time magazine had a great piece on it a couple of years ago. Apparently, the Gipper thought Bill’s technique was a bit sloppy.

Anyway, Obama’s salute has allowed partisans on both ends of the political spectrum the opportunity to retreat into their preformed ideas about the president and talk about salute-gate on those premises.

The right is outraged at the informality. Can Obama not take the time to return a simple salute, only days after ordering US forces into action against the Islamic State in Syria?

If you already define the president as feckless, it’s easy to see fecklessness in the gesture. Thus GOP political consultant Karl Rove blasted Obama as “insensitive.” We shouldn’t be surprised, Mr. Rove said, considering that Obama is a “chai-swillin’, golf-playin’, basketball trash-talkin’ ” commander in chief.

At Hot Air, Allahpundit snarked that Obama has now entered the “YOLO” stage of his presidency. He can’t even be bothered to raise his hand. At least he didn’t hand the Marine the latte, in Allahpundit’s view.

From there, some of the criticisms got uglier. At the conservative site RedState, a contributor wrote that America should expect such a move from the “low-bred grifters” who have been “imposed” on the nation as leaders.

Meanwhile, on the left folks say they’re dumbfounded that such a little thing has resulted in an over-the-top response. Inevitably, they’ve dug up photos of Republican presidents saluting badly. Very badly.

For instance, there was the time President George W. Bush kind of saluted with Barney, his dog, while departing Air Force One. In terms of physical dignity, it makes Obama look like Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The left-leaning group Media Matters posted the Barney photos under the headline, “The Media’s Imaginary Coffee Salute Scandal.”

Look, perhaps the president should not be holding a cup in a semi-ceremonial setting. But it’s not an impeachable offense.

We’ll agree with Rory Cooper, a Republican-leaning political consultant at Purple Strategies.

“A proper military salute isn’t trivial. It’s also not a scandal. But Command-in-Chief needs to get it right out of respect & for optics,” he tweeted in response to the uproar.

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