The headline in this morning’s Yahoo! News reads “Outrage in Washington over Obama’s Japan Bow”. I said “What?” Seems the conservative pundits in DC have their knickers in a knot because President Obama bowed to Emperor Akihito when he met the Emperor and his wife.
“Oh, God! What shame!” Bah! I am disgusted with this kind of arrogance. “Ugly Americans” are alive and well and kicking, and are as blind as they ever were about how the rest of the world views them.
In case you’re wondering who “ugly Americans” are or what the term means, it means the loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens and corporations abroad and at home.
It means acting as though it’s proper to walk into anyone’s house or country and do what you want without apologizing for the inconvenience, discourtesy or disrespect.
It means telling others what is good for them instead of asking because you don’t consider them important (and you consider them too “stupid” to understand how important you are, though they recognize how self-important and arrogant you are).
So William Kristol, Bill Bennett and others are having hissy fits. "We don't defer to emperors. We don't defer to kings or emperors. The president of the United States -- this coupled with so many apologies from the United States…” Some said Obama’s bow was particularly grating after he publicly bowed to Saudi Arabia’s Kind Abdullah at the G20 meeting in April. Quelle horreur!
These people say the president “has hastened America's decline as a world superpower by being too apologetic and too deferential in his dealings with other world leaders.”
Oh, really. What they’re missing besides good sense and good manners is this: The best way to shore up US power in a region increasingly dominated by rising giant China is to show respect for the people you want to improve your relationship with. In countries where bowing is a sign of respect, this means bowing where it is most appropriate. And bowing to Emperor Akihito is very appropriate and important to the Japanese people.
But if you’re an Ugly American, you don’t see it, because you think walking in and telling people people what you’re going to do is the way to win friends and influence people. Self important, arrogant behavior is “ugly”, and it just does not go over well. Showing respect does.
Here’s an example. I spent a few months in Mexico City in 1973-74 when President Nixon was involved in the Watergate scandal (his people had sent burglars to break into someone’s office) that eventually forced his resignation. The Mexican people greeted the affair with high hilarity. Here was good old self-righteous Uncle Sam caught with his hand in someone else’s till. “Ho-ho-ho!” A restaurant in the Zona Rosa featured a special dessert made of minted peaches. It was delicious. The restaurateur called it “Impeach mint.” Still makes me laugh out loud!
How does President Obama go over in Japan? His face, his words and his books are everywhere. Kids use his speeches as part of their English language study. His bow to Emperor Akihito was played over and over again on the news. (I know because I watched it.) It was a gesture of respect and kindness, a huge step forward in repairing damages done, especially over the previous eight years by an administration that had no time to genuflect to anyone, including their own country’s citizens.
Former President Bush? He threw out the first ball at Japan’s recent baseball championship game, he’s popular with former Prime Minister Koizumi, and without trying he does a pretty darn good imitation of Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. (“What, me worry?”) Neuman .
All for this post,