Should presidents salute?

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No presidential deed goes unpunished anymore. The latest controversy appears to be whether President Barack Obama should have saluted when he went to Dover Air Force Base to meet the “transport cases” of dead soldiers and DEA agents arriving home.

Carey Winfrey, the editor of Smithsonian magazine, says Obama’s salute was impeccable, but he’s discomforted with the act. He says it was President Reagan who started the practice:


“He had sought advice on the matter from Gen. Robert Barrow, commandant of the Marine Corps. According to John Kline, then Mr. Reagan’s military aide and today a member of Congress from Minnesota, General Barrow told the president that as commander in chief he could salute anybody he wished. And so it began.”

A few years ago, Garry Wills, then a professor at Northwestern, suggested presidential saluting reinforces that the president is commander in chief of everyone.


The glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements. We are reminded, for instance, of the expanded commander in chief status every time a modern president gets off the White House helicopter and returns the salute of marines.

We used to take pride in civilian leadership of the military under the Constitution, a principle that George Washington embraced when he avoided military symbols at Mount Vernon. We are not led — or were not in the past — by caudillos.

Presidential salutes range “from halfhearted to jaunty,” according to Winfrey.

Let’s see:

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Perhaps no president saluted more than Billl Clinton.

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To the untrained eye — mine — none of those look particularly unappealing. But maybe the key is not in the show of a salute but in the sincerity of what’s behind it. Jack Lucas’ salute here is pretty pitiful, by the standards Winfrey described. He was the nation’s youngest Medal of Honor winner. He lied his way into the military at age 17, then jumped on a grenade on Iwo Jima to save the lives of three others.

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“I hollered to my pals to get out and did a Superman dive at the grenades. I wasn’t a Superman after I got hit. I let out one helluva scream when that thing went off,” he recalled in 2008, shortly before he died. How should he have saluted? Any way he wanted to.

Political arsonist Rush Limbaugh is behind this latest “controversy” with his comments on Sunday about Obama. He said Obama’s salute was “a photo op precisely because he’s having big-time trouble on this whole Afghanistan dithering situation,” Limbaugh told “Fox News Sunday.”

Then again, Limbaugh once proclaimed that Michael J. Fox was faking his Parkinson’s.

  • private benjamin

    yes, they should salute.

    President Obama has the best salute ( as shown) of all but could use a little more tipped hand. It looks like Reagans salute is totally surrendered.

    go figure.

  • Noelle

    Oh Rush Limbaugh, give it up already.

  • John P.

    It seems to me that a salute is a mark of respect for the person you are saluting. It seems appropriate for Obama to salute in that circumstance.

    As for Rush, he has a lot of time to fill, and little or nothing worthwhile to say. He has to say something. I would not salute him.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Like Carey Winfrey, I’m a veteran who still remembers having the proper salute drilled (literally) into his memory.

    We both noted that Obama’s Dover AFB salute was flawless in its execution.

  • Tyler

    I’m wondering what other “honorifics” would be appropriate? Simply standing at attention isn’t enough…hand-on-heart, perhaps?

    Commander-in-chief is an odd position. The President is a civilian in a military role.

    Personally, I think a salute is appropriate, when rendered correctly. Looks like Mr. Obama has it down pat.

  • private benjamin

    You should see the back of the hand-slightly-

    if you reference the two photos in the post of the servicemen you will see the back of their hand tipped slightly.

    Not an easy gesture to snap into without practice.

    Alittle more tip of the back hand on Obama, but yes awesome for a civilian President and Commander in Chief.

  • http://healthygopher.blogspot.com Elizabeth T

    That any Right-Wing Ideologue would have the sheer audacity to so much as murmur anything about a president saluting members of the military fallen in combat is utterly beyond the pale.

    Bush2 spent practically his whole administration arguing that he was the Commander In Chief and as such was entitled to run the Dept. Defense any damn way he wanted.

    As such, I figure the President can salute any one he damn well wants. After all, every single man and woman in the military is obliged to salute him. Why should he not return the sign of respect? It is a sign of respect, not obedience.

  • private benjamin

    ////.That any Right-Wing Ideologue would have the sheer audacity to so much as murmur anything about a president saluting members of the military fallen in combat is utterly beyond the pale.

    whaaaaa?

    .put down the coffee cup ET.

  • Joanna

    what would they have said if he HADN’T saluted?

  • Corey

    We can’t blame Conservatives for this, we can blame military tradition, civilians are not supposed to give a military salute, nor are military men supposed to give it out of uniform. However, the President is the Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed Forces, so yes he should Salute because he is pretty much the leader of each military branch. We can’t throw a hissy fit about people brining negative news against a president, thats what happens. I do however think this was a reasonable question, as many forget he is a military leader aswell. Personally, I think that quip about Reagans salute was unfounded as each was a different situation. Obama’s was in Respect for the Dead, Reagans was for Admiration for that Soldier, Both Bushes were simply in passing, and Clintons looks like solumn respect, probably a parade for veterans or something. Anywho, my main point is, yes this is right. Yes it was good question to be asked. No it wasn’t handled well by ANYONE Liberal or Conservative. Honestly, if this were my story, I’d interview a Military officer and be done with it. This was totally overblown, and just lead to political squables. So please, Conservative or Liberal, don’t whine. Especially Liberals, Conservatives put up with 8 years of anti-bush sentimate, you think they are going to just just turn over and give into Obamania? No, you can sit back a puff out as many wells as you want; Well Bush….Well Bush…..Well Bush….. You better damned get used to it, it happens with every president, and I’m surprised people haven’t got used to it. So far do you know what the difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama is, Obama can read a teleprompter better. Honestly I can’t stress how much disrespect there is in the world. People Calling both Bush and Obama, Nazi’s, its madness. I’m not calling for blind following, but come on folks. George W. Bush was faced with one of the most tragic moments since Pearl Harbor, and he handled adressing the nation well. Deserves Some Respect. Barack Obama, born during the civil rights movement. He overcame adversity, racism, and poverty, to become the first Bi-racial president. Deserves Respect. There are no presidents who deserve disrespect (Maybe Millard Filmore and James Buchannon, if you don’t know why pick up a damn history book). You people shouldn’t just go on what MSNBC tells you (LIBERALS!) or what Fox Tells you (CONSERVATIVES) get up off your ass and think for yourself. When you see something on tv think “Do I think thats right.” People are so brainwashed these days by political parties no one thinks for themselves anymore, no one picks up a history book and learns, they are just told. Everyone just assumes from TV that Richard Nixon was a bad president, well heres a heads up, he was a pretty good president, just a bad person. Before Watergate he did his job well. Every Democrat is quick to Judge Bush for Iraq, but they Forget that John F. Kennedy was gradually easing us into Viet Nam (until the Dallas Tradgedy) then his successor got all the blame once things became more official. People don’t know enough history now-a-days, James Garfield entertained houseguests at the Whitehouse by writing in Latin in one hand and Greek in the other, at the same time. That shows you how stupid we have become, that a man who died in 1881 knows more than we do. I’m rambling now, but I hope my point is across. Don’t be a sheep, learn for yourself! Visit your local library, and check out history books instead of twillight. Knowing history can change everyway you look at the present.