The right-wing-osphere has been abuzz with indignation about a couple of recent Obama moments. First, there was the now infamous “arrogance” comment from his recent speech in France. And a couple of days later came the even more infamous “bow” to Saudi King Abdullah.

I think those who would seriously condemn our President for either or both of these need to do the following to be credible.

(1) Defend the interpretation that Obama was characterizing America in general as arrogant, dismissive, and derisive; versus that he was characterizing only the foreign policy of the previous administration as such. The latter is my interpretation; it makes more contextual sense to me. And as such, that comment was not only accurate, but constructive. His view is that we are better off with our allies grabbing an oar and rowing alongside us. Such fair-minded commentary signals an end to the go-f-yourself mentality of the previous administration, and helps bring such collaboration closer to reality. This was Obama’s campaign message; this is his reality. Some people may disagree, but that does not mean his approach is not sensible.

(2) Interpret Obama’s full quote. What do you make of the rest of his comments, addressing anti-American sentiment head on? There seems to be little attention given to that.

(3) Walk us through the implications of the bowing episode. Personally, I think he made an inadvertent mistake. He is inexperienced and not used to being on the world stage like that. The question is, what are the implications? Is there a case to be made that American sovereignty was lessened? That the Saudis will have enhanced confidence to defy us? Make that case. Otherwise, it is a trivial gaffe on a par with other presidential gaffes. Some of my personal favorites:

  • Ford: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”
  • Reagan, not knowing a microphone was live: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes.” Incidentally, this triggered a full scale military alert in the Soviet Union — infinitely more significant than Obama’s Saudi gaffe.
  • Bush 41, while visiting Auschwitz as vice president: “Boy, they were big on crematoriums, weren’t they?”
  • Clinton, not particularly gaffe-prone, but this statement lives forever and was a basis for his impeachment: “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
  • Bush 43: At a G8 summit, Bush squeezed Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel’s shoulders, causing a surprised Merkel to cringe.

The bottom line for me is this. The “arrogance” comment was a constructive furtherance of the new foreign policy direction he was elected to pursue; and the Saudi bow was an unimportant gaffe. I have not heard or read anyone criticize these events who didn’t already dislike Obama’s policies. That tells me a lot.