Under the Radar

Obama Takes Flak for “Coffee Salute”

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It’s disrespectful, it’s disgraceful, and it’s unprofessional. At least, that’s what many critics of Obama are claiming regarding his one-handed caffeine-enhanced salute. No more than three days ago on September 23rd, a video was posted on the White House official Instagram of President Obama stepping off of Marine One and saluting the awaiting service members with a beverage in his right hand. Whether it was coffee, tea, or hot chocolate is beside the point: a lot of folks are upset with this allegedly brazen display of disrespect.

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While a lot of heated debates are flying around the internet about respect and the role of the president, there are a few key points to consider. Firstly, there is no regulation regarding a presidential salute directed towards service members. There is no section in any book relating to the military or executive branch of the U.S. government on whether or not presidents should salute or how. In fact, as most veterans know, saluting is not a requirement of civilians or even service members in civilian clothing.

However, it is important to note that presidential salutes do have a precedent spanning several decades. One of the first documented cases of a president saluting the troops was uncovered by Politifact who dug up footage of Eisenhower throwing up his right hand at a smart angle in the 1950’s. However, these salutes seemed to be inconsistent.

The president who seems to have popularized the salute towards troops is Ronald Reagan. Reagan is credited with solidifying the act as a presidential pastime that hasn’t dwindled since. Due to Reagan’s desire to show upfront respect to the service members surrounding him, presidents have since kept up the tradition.

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While Obama’s drink-laden snafu might seem abhorrent to many, it’s important to remember that the presidential salute is an informal courtesy that gained popularity a relatively short time ago. Furthermore, Obama is not alone. Former President Bush endured similar criticism while in office for providing a salute with an entire dog wrapped around his arm.

The salute is a common and very important courtesy in the military -- it displays recognition and respect among the ranks. Although President Obama is a civilian, he is the commander in chief and although the act is informal on his part, it’s not unreasonable to expect a certain level of decorum.

What do you think? Is President Obama’s salute forgivable or does he deserve all the criticism? Let us know in the comments below.

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