"Hip" is how rapt reporters referred to the iPod the president and first lady gave the queen of England. Thanks to his fawning friends in the British and American media, Barack Obama got away with giving another foreign dignitary a vulgar gift.
Shades of the reality show "Cribs" …
The MTV series features hip-hop rappers, and other American royalty, showing off their incredibly gaudy homes, CD, DVD and iPod collections. (If there are any books in the house, these are well-hidden.) They then send the loving camera crew packing.
The Obama iPod was no ordinary "small portable digital audio player capable of storing thousands of tracks in a variety of formats, including MP3." As any teenager would for his crush, the tacky pair had personalized the thing. How do you customize an iPod for an 82-year-old monarch?
The queen will have to strain to see images of her 2007 visit to Washington and Virginia on the minute screen. I have no idea whether the rare songbook signed by songwriter Richard Rodgers was to her majesty's liking. Neither do the Obamas, in all likelihood. The queen might have preferred a rare recording of the great cellist Pablo Casals performing at the Kennedy White House. Jacqueline Kennedy was a cultured lady with impeccable taste.
Just in case the queen doesn't already have these tunes on the silver 6GB iPod mini she purchased in 2005, at the behest of her son, Prince Andrew, the Obamas "loaded" onto their iPod show tunes such as "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot." Commensurate with Barack Obama's signal solipsism, there were also images and audio from his inaugural and DNC addresses.
Quipped a characteristically acerbic blogger on the London Telegraph: "The U.S. president is a dreadful cur, with no appreciation for history or former relationships in the world. Even the dumb American people will grow to detest the very mention of his name. It will take a little while, however, because they have been so dumbed down by the educational system."
In the spirit of such provincialism (and mindless projection), John Harwood, who's in the employ of both CNBC and the New York Times, described Gordon Brown as basking in Obama's glow, and pronounced the queen "star struck."
The formidable Elizabeth II "star struck"! The same woman who gave her first impeccably delivered address to the nation at age 13, when World War II broke out – and sans teleprompter! Still in her teens, this great lady – the very epitome of the British character – joined the army, where she served as a truck driver.
Obama swanked to the press that his wife was handling the details of the visit – the same woman who gave a box of 25 DVDs including "ET," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Star Wars" to Prime Minister Brown, a cheap gift which spoke to the giver's impoverishment. The DVDs were also region-encoded for North America and could not be played in Britain.
Brown gave Obama "a pen holder carved from the timber of an anti-slave ship." Sarah Brown lavished books and ball gowns on the Obama girls. Mrs. Obama reciprocated by giving the Brown boys two lousy, plastic, "matching models of the helicopter which ferries her husband around." Sneered the Telegraph's Iain Martin: "While Sarah Brown had spent time choosing gifts for the Obama girls, Michelle had clearly sent an aide to the White House gift shop at the last moment."
"It didn't go down well in Britain," remarked Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for South East England. "I know [Brown's] a ninny … but he's our ninny, and we don't like to see you slapping him about. That's our job."
Before the DVD and gift-shop gaffes, there was the weightier matter of the bust of Winston Churchill. "The valuable bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein had been loaned by the British government to George W. Bush," wrote syndicated columnist Diana West. "One of President Obama's first acts as president was to consign that symbol to a box and send it packing":
"It seems that what we are seeing in the return of the Churchill bust is less a personal vendetta against Churchill the man and more an open breach in the Western continuum out of which a new orientation toward the Third World will become increasingly apparent. Having achieved a Washington-like apotheosis in the American imagination, Churchill serves not only as the pre-eminent symbol of resolve, courage and faith against the enemies of Western Civilization. He serves as a symbol of Western Civilization, period."
The return of the Churchill bronze confirmed the suspicion that Obama was anti-Occident. The habit of giving inappropriate, thoughtless presents – as he and his family are deluged with wild effusions of love and lavish gifts – this shows Obama to be, well, a bit of a pig.
George Will once wrote that "manners are the practice of a virtue. The virtue is called civility, a word related – as a foundation is related to a house – to the word civilization."
The ability to mind one's manners in dealing with others is a reflection of the mettle of a man. Or a woman.