Monday, March 16, 2009

Blame Hillary for the Gift Giving Fiasco

When the President of the United States has a personal moment of embarrassment, Americans can laugh and shrug it off as just something that could happen to any of us. For example, the moment caught on tape - and played endlessly - of President Bush unable to open a door to leave the answering session of a conference. Or perhaps the moment new President Obama walked through a window sill instead of the door at the White House. That moment was only briefly shown, however. Either example shows some humaness and is not a lasting mark for anyone.

Some of the basic competence of the current administration is being questioned now, though, just as the question of competence was apparent during the second G.W.Bush administration. For all the roses tossed by the media and the Democrats in this country to the new administration, as we are to believe this group is so organized and professional in their hit-the-ground-running style, the wheels are flying off the bus.

Not only has the curtain been pulled back on the poorly managed vetting process of the new people in charge of staffing the place, but now it seems the administration is sorely lacking in basic common courtesy and decorum. On the international stage these two words - courtesy and decorum - are very important. Like class, either you have it or you don't. The position of head of protocol is one that is in dire need of stepping up and guiding the new first couple in the White House. President and Mrs. Obama, while trying desparately to be a part of the glittery, glamourous crowd of the rich and powerful in Washington - including living large and entertaining big at least once a week in the White House, as the President wants to toss around the comparisons to the Great Depression to the current economy - have begun the quiet diplomacy of gift giving to our friends overseas on an incredibly embarrasing note.

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife visited the White House recently, the British Prime Minister was almost giddy with glee of forging a relationship with the new president. He assumed, rightfully so, that a bond was present between our two countries and we would all continue to work together on the international stage. Silly Prime Minister. His first clue should have been that he was not the first foreign dignitary called by the new president. That honor went to the current president of Palestine.

President Obama returned the bust of Winston Churchill which was displayed in the Oval Office. Winston Churchill was half American, after all. The bust was a gift loaned from former Prime Minister Tony Blair to former President George W. Bush after 9/11/01 as a show of support. He cancelled a joint appearance in the Rose Garden and held only a brief, low energy availability in the White House and this embarrassed our British friends.

For the gift exchange, Prime Minister Brown gave the new president several thoughtful gifts, including a pen holder "made from a Royal Navy vessel that once fought to end the Atlantic slave trade and a first edition of the eight-volume biography of Winston Churchill begun by WInston's son Randolph and completed by Sir Martin Gilbert. Obama paid him back with a stack of Hollywood movies on DVD that Brown could just as easily have ordered from Netflix", said Arthur Herman in a recent column in the New York Post. Mrs. Brown presented the Obama girls with dresses from the top boutique for girls in London along with matching necklaces, and a collection of books by British authors. The Brown boys were given small plastic models of Marine One from the Obamas.

Rich Galen, who writes a column called Mullings on the Internet, is the former press secretary to Newt Gingrich and Washington insider. He brought up an interesting point as all of this drama played out. He pointed to the "Peter Principle" - "In a hierachy every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence", in a recent column. As diplomats around the world scratch their heads and wonder what the new group in the White House is up to, it is Hillary Clinton who is technically in charge of the Gift Division of the Office of Protocol in the State Department. This is the division tasked with coming up with gifts for diplomats and officials during foreign visits. Maybe Hillary wanted to get the first term of Barack Obama off to a shaky start in the gift giving department.

In recent days, even the most ardent Obama fans are beginning to express doubts of the degree of competence of the new administration. Not only from the hiring of lobbyists, though Obama was using the word as though it were a swear word on the campaign trail while claiming he would never hire such low lifes in his administration, but obvious contradictions like bringing in Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Geithner was a part of the former administration's initial bail out program as head of the Federal Reserve in New York. If the Bush policies and actions were destroying the economy, why bring in an archetect of the bail out program to solve the current problems?

From the NY Post:"His promises and policies contradict each other often enough that evidence of hypocrisy is ceasing to be news. Remember the pledges about bipartisanship and high ethics? They're so last year.

The beat goes on. Last week, Obama brazenly gave a speech about earmark reform just after he quietly signed a $410 billion spending bill that had about 9,000 earmarks in it. He denounced Bush's habit of disregarding pieces of laws he didn't like, so-called signing statements, then issued one himself.

And in an absolute jaw-dropper, he told business leaders, "I don't like the idea of spending more government money, nor am I interested in expanding government's role."

No wonder Americans are confused. Our President is, too."


vikk simmons said...

Wow, Karen, really good analysis. I have a feeling the Obama team sashayed into Washington assuming they had a wide highway ahead absent of any and all obstacles. After all, they had both Queen Nancy and Prince Harry paving the way. While George W. had his flaws, he did at least have respect for the office and for our long-standing allies. I do a lot of wincing when I hear the news nowadays.

Karen said...

Thanks, Vikk.