Using an Umbrella to Undermine the President

Umbrellagate is more proof that Obama's critics cannot acknowledge that he is, indeed, president.

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President Barack Obama with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2013.

Have we become so obsessive-compulsively, potato chip scarfing-like addicted to scandal that we are really having some sort of national discussion about umbrellas?

Sadly, apparently so. Critics of the president, seemingly not satisfied with the political ammunition provided by genuine scandals and controversies, are sniping about an episode last week wherein President Obama asked U.S. Marines to hold umbrellas over his head and the head of visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two were outside at the White House, holding a joint press conference, when it began to rain. Obama responded by saying:

I am going to go ahead and ask folks, why don't we get a couple of Marines — they're going to look good next to us. I've got a change of suits, but I don't know about our prime minister.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

This was not only the most practical thing to do, but the most diplomatic. Despite some admonitions on the Internet (always a source of thoughtful discourse and facts!), it's not so easy, logistically, to simply move the whole party inside when it starts to rain. It's particularly difficult for the broadcast media, which would have to reposition and set up cameras.

The president could have just let the rain fall where it may – and that is indeed what candidates tend to do, since they want everyone to think they're such touch guys that they're not bothered by the rain or snow. But Obama had to think of his guest, the prime minister, who wasn't going to embarrass the president or himself by asking for an umbrella. Nor could Obama ask that the prime minister be protected from the rain without doing the same. Otherwise, Obama gets to look tough while the prime minister looks weak. And as Obama jokingly pointed out, it's the home team leader who can just go upstairs and change clothes.

So what was the grave transgression? It seems that Marines (except, bizarrely and somewhat patronizingly, female Marines) are not supposed to carry umbrellas, according to military tradition. Fine, but in fact, they weren't carrying them in the sense that they weren't holding them over their own heads – they were protecting the president (which, in fact, is part of their job while at the White House). Also, the president is the commander-in-chief, and while that is not strictly a military rank, he does outrank the servicemembers there to protect him. That's the point.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

But then, that's the real issue here with Umbrellagate – that many of Obama's critics simply cannot, or will not, acknowledge that he is indeed president. They seem to think he should defer to members of Congress or talk show hosts or anyone else who thinks he or she has a better idea of how to run things. The poor personal relationship between the president and the Hill is blamed on Obama for not wining and dining Capitol Hill lawmakers – not on the members themselves for comparing the president to nefarious historical figures, questioning his citizenship or declaring denying him a second term one of their main goals. They're well within their rights to do those things, but they should not then expect a ticker-tape parade from the White House.

Sarah Palin tweeted on the umbrella matter, "most Americans hold their own umbrellas." That's true. And it's also true that the president is not "most Americans." It's been almost five years. It's time to acknowledge that Obama is really the president