The internet, not to mention mainstream news media, have dubbed it “The Latte Salute,” and according to certain vocal individuals as well as an army of Twitter users, it’s the worst scandal of the entire Barack Obama presidency. Or at least it seems that way.
The scandal stems from a video of Obama stepping off of Marine One, the presidential helicopter, on Tuesday with what appears to be a coffee cup but more likely contained Obama’s preferred beverage while airborne, tea, in his right hand.
The president then salutes the waiting Marines without switching the cup to his left hand.
The internet, followed quickly by Fox News, ABC News and many other media outlets, quickly erupted in outrage. One Fox News show slammed the president as “disrespectful” to the Marines, while Fox News contributor and former Republican congressman Allen West declaring that the salute “seals the deal” on any doubt whether Obama holds the military in low regard, as conservatives believe he does.
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity asked Karl Rove, the former top adviser to President George W. Bush, whether Bush would have issued a similar salute. Rove responded by condemning Obama’s salute as “insensitive” and asking, rhetorically, “how disrespectful was that?”
But Rove did not answer as to whether Bush would have ever saluted in such a “disrespectful” manner. Perhaps because, as seen in the above photo from June 25, 2001, Bush once saluted the Marines — with a dog.
The first president known to make a saluting gaffe, however, was neither Obama nor Bush but Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s gaffe was not to hold a coffee cup or a canine — but to salute at all.
Reagan was the first president to regularly salute uniformed members of the military, which was a significant break with tradition.
“For the first 192 years of our republic, it didn’t happen. None of the first 38 commanders in chief did it. And some of those dudes had some serious military experience,” wrote former U.S. Marine and Afghanistan veteran Brian Adam Jones on his Task and Purpose blog. “Eisenhower? Grant? I mean, Teddy Roosevelt was a war hero. Surely he felt compelled to click his heels together and cut a perfect knife-handed salute when he passed a uniform service member, right? Wrong. It was literally something that Ronald Reagan made up one day.”
The saluting issue did not simply arise on Tuesday with the so called Obama “latte salute.”
“Dwight Eisenhower, a real general, knew that the salute is for the uniform, and as president he was not wearing one,” historian Garry Wills wrote back in 2007. “An exchange of salutes was out of order.”
Nor is the matter of who wears a uniform and who doesn’t merely symbolic. “The President of the United States is a civilian. He is not a member of the US Military and is therefore not entitled to salute,” wrote Air Force veteran and conservative commentator Bob Price.
“The military salute is a privilege earned by honorable service in the military,” Price explained. “One of the core principles of our country is our military is under civilian control. The President is that civilian authority over the military as is the Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of the branches of the armed services.”
The question of whether the president should salute at all appears to have been answered long ago. Presidents since Reagan, including Barack Obama — as well as the Fox News personalities — would appear to have been answering it wrong.