April 2, 2009

Traditions exist for reasons. Often good reasons.

From an e-mail from one of my sons....

...But now on to the heart of this email: I read that Mrs. Obama touched the Queen while visiting her. Apparently it is Etiquette to not touch the Queen. Unless the Queen extends her hand to you, you are supposed to just touch it, not firmly shake it. Why is that? When did this tradition start? Do you know if there is there something similar with other monarchs around the globe? Or with His Holiness Pope in Rome?...

In the past, before this new-fangled democracy business muddled things up, one would always treat anyone of higher rank with respect. Which included avoiding anything that smacked of "familiarity." Touching someone says, in body language, "I'm your equal."

There was a whole language of gesture, ceremony, pomp, and display, most of which we've forgotten. And the messages conveyed by this language had big political implications. One could "read" a political situation by observing subtleties of posture. Allowing familiarity by an inferior could be dangerous—a signal that one was uncertain, insecure, hesitant. A political enemy might decide this was the time to strike.

Nowadays in political conflicts one can just take a poll! Or ask focus groups. Or make a speech in Iowa and see how the world reacts.

But this only applies to domestic politics. You can't do that kind of thing in international relations. On the international stage gestures of strength and confidence—or weakness and uncertainty—are still critically important. Because they are "read," by friends and enemies alike.

Traditions usually embody wisdom learned in the past. It is not a minor thing that traditionally in America we have believed that "partisanship should end at the water's edge." It's extremely important. If we look divided, or weak, or confused, we invite attack by enemies. And we are telling friends we can't be trusted. That's why Obama's bumbling diplomacy is a deadly serious matter.

I'm sure all my readers have seen the film Russian Ark, since I recommended it. Think back to the scene of the reception of the Persian delegation. Ponder that elaborately staged performance, its beauty, splendor, grace and power. That was not just done for swank, it was a political message. It said Russia is strong and young and confident. Like an athlete whose strength and gracefulness intimidates the competition.

(The exact same thing is seen in bad neighborhoods, where the rule of law and electoral politics have broken down. The gangster projects power and confidence with his flashy cars and babes, his attentive entourage, his bold gestures in defying the law. If he stumbles or looks confused in any way, watchful eyes will note, and his position my be challenged. And if you touch him with familiarity in public you might end up sleeping with the fishes! The same applies to the forces of law and order. Imagine a dramatic raid by the police, and the gangster led off in cuffs looking helpless! That might be a game-changing display. Earth is a kind of bad neighborhood, and we are the cops.)

That's why it was wicked folly for Democrats to attack and weaken President Bush in his works of diplomacy and warfare in the War on Terror, and the Iraq Campaign particularly. That was warmongering. It heartened our enemies, and made the Iraq Campaign longer and more bloody. It made future conflicts more likely. It invited future 9/11's.

And that's why Obama's disgraceful performances with the PM, and now the Queen, make our situation in the world more dangerous. Britain usually stands with us in world crisis, but now it is certain that our relationship is being re-calculated in Whitehall and London. You don't to stand shoulder to shoulder with a nation led by erratic goofballs...

* Update: To me an even more interesting question is WHY are so many Democrats making elementary mistakes in this field. Stupid obvious mistakes. My theory is—sorry to repeat myself—that the morphing of liberals into nihilists is to blame. The nihilist hates those things which have a claim on us. Which are bigger than the individual. Things that make claims of duty and respect, to which we should put our selves second. They trash the great traditions and customs of our civilization in the same way they vandalize our traditions of art and architecture, the same way they malign America and Israel, the same way they crucify God as a daily routine.

And now poor Obama is like a dirty child who has always scorned manners and courtesy, and finds himself visiting a polite household. He's spitting on the floor not because he's trying to express insult, but because the habits of trashiness are all he, and his group, ever let themselves learn. It's the same with Clinton. How could anyone make an official visit to the Western Hemisphere's most important religious shrine, and not bother to learn the story of it? She's learned a few things, but deep down she's a child of dirt. She showed precisely the same inner squalor, and hatred of the good and beautiful, when her husband was getting started in Arkansas politics and she offended people by still wearing hippie sandals.

Posted by John Weidner at April 2, 2009 10:27 AM
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