Your President has come and gone. His State visit is over. Naturally the UK media went out of its way to be positive because
1. In 2008 they took their cue from your MSM and accepted the myth without expending any effort on shoe leather so it would be embarrassing to ‘fess up
2. He is a left wing politician and therefore our media and academic elite keep any criticism muted
3. Generally, like you Americans, though we find foreigners a little odd, we are polite to them
State visits are peculiar creatures because, unlike the day to day give, take and insult of raw international politics they are also heavy with symbolism – flags, banquets, parades and visits to the host nation’s icons.
When I was a callow youth I sneered at symbols as empty gewgaws designed to hypnotise the ignorant, like the cheap coloured beads offered to primitive tribal chieftains in the 19th century for a thousand square miles of arid landscape packed with enough mineral wealth to create a hundred western millionaires.
But as I grew through the stages of life and began to learn from experience rather than through text books I realised that symbols were emotional shorthand for a common cultural inheritance that stretches back to ancestors long unknown. It made me also realise that we as individuals can only be short term leaseholders of that inheritance which we must inevitably pass on to generations yet unborn.
So we treat them with respect.
And we treat the symbols of our friends with respect.
And before we venture into a friendly foreign land we do a little homework on those symbols – especially if we hold an office in our own country with its own symbolic constellation. Indeed most leaders of nations have diplomatic advisers and heads of protocol waiting on hand to guide them through what can be a an intimidating maze of expectations.
President Obama failed that test when he attended the banquet given in his honour by our Queen. He stumbled over the toast, did not even attempt to pretend he wasn’t using a cue card and had to be instructed in good manners by his hostess
Earlier that day he visited Westminster Abbey where England’s kings and queens have always been crowned and where, just a few weeks ago, millions throughout the world had witnessed the strange mixture of solemnity and joy that characterised the royal wedding. Here also lies the tomb of The Unknown Warrior, the First World War soldier who represents the sacrifice of all those other British service men and women who have no known resting place and on whose grave was placed Kate Middleton’s wedding posy after the pomp and ceremony of her marriage.
Mrs Obama, who had changed her outfit to a purple dress and blue coat, said: “It’s a pleasure to be here again”, to which her husband added: “She gets to come to all the fun places”, then “so nice to see you, how are you?”
He was there to lay a wreath on the Unknown Warrior’s grave. It is not a fun place. It is a place of dark and brooding majesty, a place where hard men are proud to shed tears of respect and remembrance for those who gave their blood and bone so that we may live outside war and terror.
He was then asked to sign the Abbey’s Visitors Book, a simple but meaningful act of symbolic recognition. He had to seek advice for the date and then got the year wrong.
But maybe the 2008 gaffe is understandable seeing that he already appears to be in full campaign mode. Perhaps he felt that Congressman Clyburn would be more impressed by a visit to a multi ethnic school in South London rather than meeting up with the brightest and best of Britain’s young scientists. After all we are contantly being told that Obama has a towering intellect – so what can he learn from a handful of test tube shakers….
Excused as “slips” these blunders appear to be manifestations of his real world view. That traditions and symbols and threads towards the past are the cobwebbed residue of meaningless images irrelevant to the vision of a socially engineered reconstruction of society where there is a place for everyone and everyone is in their place and woe betide any village Hampden who refuses to conform.
As for protocol – I guess the only protocol needed for any young politician on the make in Chicago at the turn of the century was to find the most suitable part of Mayor Daley’s posterior to kiss in order to get further up the ladder.
A sad day for both our lands.