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So close to 'Off with his head!' - Elizabeth Unexplained
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greyautumnrain
greyautumnrain
So close to 'Off with his head!'
I decided I wanted to write a rant about this after all...

In case you were living under a rock for the past week and not reading the news, there was a state visit by HM Queen Elizabeth II to the United States that concluded this week. If you did read the news, you may have learned that the during said visit the president winked at the queen. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6637549.stm

Most people probably consider this just typical George W. Bush behaviour. I'm sure it is. He's famous for stunts like this. The thing is, it isn't just an amusingly awkward way of trying to get out of a verbal blunder. It's not just cheeky. It is unacceptable behaviour.

You see, once upon a time it would have been a crime. (In fact, there are parts of the world where it still is.) Now granted, even Queen Elizabeth I would not have had it in her power to behead a foreign head of state over such a thing, but you can bet that lesser heads would have rolled for such a thing. The crime even has a name. Free speech laws mean that it is no longer a crime in this country, but just because something is technically legal that does not make it acceptable. The free speech laws were meant to allow for honest criticism of a leader. That is rather different than an unprovoked wink at a female head of state, which is simply an assault on her dignity. Granted, I don't think anyone actually believes the president meant it as an insult, but that is not an excuse for being careless of the dignity of others.

Of course, this is hardly the first time the president has been guilty of this. There was a rather infamous unwanted shoulder rub for a fellow elected world leader, and I believe there have been other incidents. I know its fashionable these days to not take yourself too seriously and to be impatient with formal manners, but these manners have a reason for existing. When one head of state doesn't seem to understand the need to respect the dignity of another head of state things have clearly gone too far. Sadly I think very few people realize exactly why George W. Bush got the look he got in return for that wink, and why it was actually a mild and generous reaction to what he had done. It seems that people realize that the wink was not the right thing to do, but they can't put their finger on exactly why. It seems simple to me, the need to treat other people with dignity and respect, and yet it must have eluded George W. Bush and others. If he can forget so easily with people of rank and importance, one has to worry about how he would treat those who have little rank or importance.
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Comments
dcltdw From: dcltdw Date: May 11th, 2007 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your word choice is interesting. I'm wondering if I'm reading way too much into your specific choice of words.

Would it be less infuriating to you if the head of state were male?
Would it be less infuriating to you had this been, say, a visiting minor diplomat instead of the Queen?

As I was reading your post, it seemed to me that your answers would be different, until I got to your closing sentence. So that's why I'm piping up.

I don't want to detract from what I believe are your other points: that Bush committed a verbal gaffe and failed to apologize, which is not illegal but certainly is rude, and thus embarassing to the rest of the United States. I'm totally in agreement there. Well, provided I'm summarizing your points correctly. :)
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: May 11th, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was not the verbal gaffe, but the wink that I object to. Getting the date wrong was no big deal in my opion. Sometimes you open your mouth and the wrong thing comes out, it happens to everyone, and he did correct himself halfway through. Following it up by winking at the person he was talking about, that was inappropriate. When the person in question is a visiting head of state, it was not only inappropriate, but he should have know better.

So, you kind of missed the main point. As for your questions: It is always inapporpriate to wink at someone in that context, its just more glaring considering who this was. The side point I was making, is that a few centuries ago it might have literally be a fatal mistake.
twe From: twe Date: May 12th, 2007 01:11 am (UTC) (Link)
a few centuries ago it might have literally be a fatal mistake

To which I can only think, "thank god we are beyond such nonsense now." :)
sorceror From: sorceror Date: May 11th, 2007 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)


Would it be less infuriating to you if the head of state were male?

Would it be less infuriating to you had this been, say, a visiting minor diplomat instead of the Queen?


Interesting questions. Speaking for myself as a generally pro-American Loyal Subject of the monarch in question (twice over, in fact):

Less infuriating if it was a wink to the King? Not really. [As a side note, I don't know if 'infuriating' is the right word. More like 'inappropriate' or even 'crass'.] While winking at someone of the opposite gender can be seen as a come-on, that didn't come into play here. It's the fact that he was acting in an unwarrantedly familiar & jokey way with a reigning Monarch, at a formal public reception.

As a side note, two years or so ago (I think it must have been 2005, since that was the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII), the Mayor of Montreal made the mistake of greeting the visiting Princess Margriet of the Netherlands by kissing her on both cheeks. It's a Montreal custom, but by convention you don't touch the Royal person unless invited. She was gracious about it, but it was still a gaffe. Then again, the Mayor doesn't have a protocol office warning him what not to do; and the Princess was not the Netherlands' actual Head of State.

As another side note, I thought it was incredibly offensive and inappropriate when our criminal buffoon of a Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, openly expressed the hope that Bush would lose the election back on 2004. Whatever his private opinions (and whatever the opinions of most Canadians in general), the only acceptable comment for Canada's Head of Government to make on the election would have been to say that Canada will continue to be the United States' firm friend and ally no matter who wins, and that the choice of President is something for Americans to decide for themselves.

Less infuriating if it were a minor official? I'd say yes — depending on the level of the official. But still not terribly appropriate. The President outranks any ambassador or foreign minister; but they do represent their countries. And that's the real problem. When the President acts informally toward another nation's representative, it's easy for the people of that nation to interpret it as a slight.

Overall, it's just inappropriate to be informal when dealing with foreign dignitaries in a public setting.
twe From: twe Date: May 12th, 2007 01:50 am (UTC) (Link)
It's a Montreal custom, but by convention you don't touch the Royal person unless invited. She was gracious about it, but it was still a gaffe.

I think it's very cool that she was gracious about it.

(And I think you're right that what Chretien did was a lot more offensive than any amount of nervous winking.)
psychohist From: psychohist Date: May 11th, 2007 11:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's not clear to me that Bush thinks of himself as having more rank or importance than anyone else. In fact, I think he just thinks of himself as someone with the same rank or importance as any other American, who happens to have been elected President. I'm not sure I disagree with that assessment.

His mistake lies in thinking of the Queen as someone with the same rank or importance as any other Briton, who just happens to have been born Queen.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: May 11th, 2007 11:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's probably true. On the other hand, I also think it would have been inappropriate for him to wink at me.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: May 12th, 2007 12:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, and while he may think of himself as being egalitarian, I am not entirely convinced that he treats all people equally. Perhaps I should replace 'rank and importance' with 'wealth and power' in my final sentence.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: May 12th, 2007 03:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. Better or worse than President Carter kissing the Queen Mother (who gave him more than a glare...)? I think it's that many of our Presidents see themselves as One Of The People, and think of themselves as extending that "courtesy" to other heads of state as well.

(I agree that they're forgetting the flip side of the issue, that of respect due to the office. No matter how much I might disagree with President Bush, I wouldn't ever call him "the Shrub", and it irritates me when people do.)
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