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The Gaffe Patrol spots a bogey
Something's bustin' out all over for George W. Bush, and it ain't June. The president is excused if he's beginning to think he's Rodney Dangerfield. Except in Albania, he just don't get no respect.
The collapse of immigration "reform" legislation in the Senate, which Harry Reid, the leader of the Democratic majority, calls "the Bush immigration bill," is a bitter disappointment for the president. But it says a lot as well about the collapse of the Kennedy clout. Nobody worked harder to impose this monstrosity than the senator from Massachusetts, one of the masters of manipulating the Senate.
But it's the president who's getting the Bronx cheers, and not just for his ineffective politics. When the president visited Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Saturday, he addressed him with a respectful "sir" instead of the usual "Your Holiness," and this drew what the wire service accounts called "gasps" from various holy hangers-on, not further identified but probably no one any more important than the reporters regularly assigned to cover the Holy See. They were further offended by the president's amiable greeting to someone he obviously knew: "How ya doin'?" Other Vatican reporters, not otherwise known for their religious piety, sniffed that when he was talking to the pontiff, the president crossed his legs "Texan style." This could also be called a "manly style," which may be why it seemed so foreign to them.
No one was more offended by these supposed breaches of protocol than the idolizers of all things royal back in London. They're still in considerable pain in Old Blighty over the president's friendly hospitality for Queen Elizabeth a few weeks ago in Washington, where he treated her as if she were actually a real person instead of a stuffed attraction from the theme park that Britain sometimes seems on its way to becoming, if anyone can imagine a theme park in an Islamist satrap.
His "offense," like the "offense" at the Vatican, was being respectful instead of worshipful. In Washington, George W. greeted the queen with a recollection that she had visited Washington for the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence "in 17 — in 1976." When the queen shot him a startled look, the president winked at her and told the guests: "She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."
"On a morning that should by rights have been frozen in time as a moment of pure pageantry," observed the Guardian, the leading left-wing newspaper, "with military marching bands, pipers trucked out in tricorn hats and powdered wigs, and visiting royalty, one can count on George Bush. The president ... once again demonstrated his gift for the gaffe, injecting an unintended sense of levity into the White House welcome for the Queen."
But why not a little levity? You might have thought a visitor to Disneyland had stepped on Mickey's tail. Britons, even on Fleet Street, should have learned by now that Americans, whether presidents or paupers, don't do "worshipful," except in church. Americans neither kneel nor bow to anyone, those being customs we've never allowed in from the Old World. That's what the unpleasantness following the events of 1776 — not 1976 — was all about.
George W.'s respectful "yes, sir," to a question from the pope, intended no offense to the protocol of the Holy See. The president, after all, is not a man of the pope's particular denomination, which is adorned with what seems to a Methodist a complicated protocol of form and ritual. But that's picking theological nits, and presidents don't do that. Pope Benedict, a pontiff who is more concerned with substantial issues of faith, did not seem to think that the president offered him insult. Only semiliterate reporters, ever eager to pick fights for someone else, did that. That's just what the Gaffe Patrol does.
This is trivial in the real world, where the president and several Democrats, including Teddy Kennedy, spent considerable political capital trying to enact an immigration "reform" bill that nobody else wants. The president is said to be ever more concerned about his "legacy" and his Democratic allies' lust for all those Hispanic votes. The rest of us want first to close the border, continuing to furiously bleed Mexicans 24/7, before we talk about what to do about the 12, or 15, or 20 million illegals already among us. Mickey Mouse could understand that, so why not the pols?
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.
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