Obama’s Bows Show Weakness

Rick Hamada
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Wednesday - April 21, 2010

He did it again.

The President of the United States of America, our commander in chief and the leader of the free world, bowed to another head of state.

First, it was King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

He subsequently bowed to Queen Elizabeth II of England.

For some reason, President Obama thought it necessary to bow to the Mayor of Tampa, Fla.


He then bowed to Japanese Emperor Akihito.

Now, his latest bow is to, of all people, the president of China, Ju Hintao.

I wonder if the next time he’s in town that he will bow to the Tropical Snow shave ice guy in Kailua.

I know some of you are shaking your heads and muttering under your breath some unsavory comments about your warm and fuzzy scribe.

Fine. But stop and consider the reality.

As I am sure you know in Asian cultures bowing is not just some rudimentary act. There is meaning to the bow. One can communicate apology, friendship, remorse, deference, happiness, humility and a host of other sentiments. If you affect a bow, it’s expected that you would receive one in return. As with the case with President Jintao, Obama bowed and did not receive bow in return. The young folk would refer to this as being “dissed.” So here we are. President Obama is portrayed in global media as, yet again, bowing deferentially and not getting a bow in return. And the message here is ...?

This is not some silly mis-step. The perception of America is shaped not only by media, film and music, but also by the representation of our leaders. A deferential bow that is not returned can be symbolically interpreted as a sign of weakness and vulnerability.


The flipside is our president is ignorant of proper bowing protocol.

The leaders and their people would view a bowing faux pas as a lack of cultural education or awareness. Clearly, this perception could embolden our enemies at worse or relegate our president to a punch line.

What’s the easiest solution?

Mr. President, just stop bowing.

Please remember, whether you like it or not, every one of your actions on the world political stage is a direct reflection on our nation and we, the people. We are Americans and, in our culture, we don’t bow. Since you are not representing an Asian country and you are not Asian yourself, why continue bowing? If you are trying to win friends via deference, it’s not working. If you are trying to show respect, you’re not. Instead, you appear to be obsequious. If you think I am mistaken, then just how many of these leaders have returned your bow?

Mr. President, I would recommend you do what I taught my son. When he meets somebody, shake their hands (firmly), look them in the eye and say, “Hello. My name is Zachary, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

That seems to work quite well.

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