An Offensive Sole

The tea party is faux outraged over a photo of the president speaking with his feet on his desk.

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President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call from the Oval Office, Monday, June 8, 2009.

The tea party is putting its foot down.

As often is the case, the foot has to do with President Obama (aka "Satan" in  tea party-speak). Unable to get Obama impeached or exposed as a foreigner or Muslim or terrorist or cyborg, the president's most ardent foes are now officially outraged at a photo of the commander in chief with his foot on his Oval Office desk.

Right-wingers who saw the pic on the Drudge Report professed to be appalled – either by the casualness of the gesture or the supposedly inherent disrespect to the person Obama was talking to on the phone or the desk itself.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the tea party.]

Never mind that other presidents (including George W. Bush) have been photographed with their feet on their desks. The more important question is, is this really important?

The desk seems to serve much as a prop, anyway. In photos of the Oval Office, there usually doesn't seem to be much actually on the desk, save some family photos and indiscernible-looking paperwork (though the latter may be a deliberate effort to maintain security). Presumably, Obama sits behind the desk, but it's not like he's behind the desktop all day, writing memos and speeches while periodically checking his Facebook page. Most of his work is likely done in meetings with staff or in conversations with congressional and foreign leaders, not sitting behind a desk and processing paper.

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

But some people are determined to be offended at the slightest provocation, even manufacturing the slight when necessary. As the Daily Mail reminds us in its account of the foot-flap, an Israeli newspaper took offense in 2009:

One such moment of relaxation provided some diplomatic tension during Obama's first year in office.

The president was photographed with his feet on his desk, soles pointing toward the camera, while he discussed a planned speech in Cairo with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in June 2009.

Obama had been carrying on tense negotiations with Netanyahu over the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the soles of his feet were seen as an insult

A photo released by the White House, which shows Obama talking on the phone with Netanyahu on Monday, speaks volumes,' read one editorial in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz . 'The president is seen with his legs up on the table, his face stern and his fist clenched, as though he were dictating to Netanyahu. ... As an enthusiast of Muslim culture, Obama surely knows there is no greater insult in the Middle East than pointing the soles of one's shoes at another person. Indeed, photos of other presidential phone calls depict Obama leaning on his desk, with his feet on the floor.'

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

The editorial looks particularly frivolous in retrospect. One would hope that Middle East leaders and newspaper editors have more important things on their minds that where the president's feet are located during a phone conversation.

And let's remember, they're not Skype-ing. If a foot is on a desk, and no one's around to see it, can it offend? If we want to impose some phone courtesy, let's start with the people who chew food loudly or use the restroom while chatting on a cell phone. And then let's make them sit in a room with the people who put their cell phones on restaurant tables when they're out to dinner with friends, and then continually check the device for calls or messages. Putting their feet on the restaurant table actually would be less rude.

But chastising any president for putting his feet on the desk? Surely, we have better things to do.

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