Friday, April 3, 2009

Adventures in Protocol

Given all the diplomatic talent roaming through the halls of the White House and the State Department you figure that someone could have come up with an appropriate gift for the Queen of England.

Appropriate means: appropriate to the solemnity of the occasion, and to the roles and duties of the persons involved.

Beyond that, as with all such ritual offerings, a gift must be something that the recipient will enjoy.

This is another way of saying that when you are celebrating your anniversary, you should not offer a toy truck or an air conditioner.

Given how badly the president muffed his gifts to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the world was intently waiting to see what he would offer to the Queen of England.

As you know, it was a fully-loaded iPod. Not merely loaded with Broadway show tunes, but also with film clips of the Windsor's state visits to America, and with footage of Obama's greatest speeches.

If it gift-giving were about good feelings, it would have been charming. Beyond that, it was uninspired.

Among other reasons, because the Queen already has a silver iPod. She uses it to listen to music.

Did anyone think that an iPod has a rather small screen. Why offer an iPod to a couple of octogenarians whose eyesight is probably not what it used to be. What are the chances that the Windsors will want to strain their eyes to watch pictures of themselves on a miniature screen?

And do you imagine that the Queen has never had the opportunity to review the film clips of her visits to the United States?

If a friend visits your house and does not bring his camera, you might well send along a tape you made of the occasion. Well and good. The august personage of the Queen of England brings along her own camera crew, plus an entourage of international media. To ignore these facts is to treat her as less than she is.

And why would anyone imagine that the monarch would want to spend time watching her own public appearances? Doesn't that assume that she is rather too narcissistic?

The point of being Queen is to serve one's subjects, not to become infatuated with her own image.

As for the collection of Obama's greatest speeches, this feels a little too look-at-me, even a little too self-absorbed. It is not fitting a man who insists that he is bringing humility back to foreign policy.

Given who the Queen is, if she should ever yearn to watch one of Obama's greatest speeches, she would easily be able to instruct a member of her staff to arrange a viewing.

Finally, an iPod does not denote the dignity of the office of President of the United States. It is a useful and wonderful gadget, but it does not quite shout: leader of the free world.

Nor is an iPod redolent of the majesty of the Queen of England.

But, let's be thankful for little things. We can console ourselves that President Obama did not undo two and a quarter centuries of history by bowing down to the Queen of England.

He saved that gesture for the King of Saudi Arabia, a man who, for reasons that escape me, inspired more deference, fealty, and obeisance than did the Queen of England.

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