• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Burnt Toast

Obama toasted the Queen today. No doubt years of practice has endured Her Majesty to sitting through exquisitely embarrassing moments, but it was painful to watch all the same.

The unravelling began at the beginning when President Obama raised his glass to propose a toast “to the Queen” and then, as the anthem was struck, rambled on to praise the vitality of the special relationship and “in the words of Shakesepare, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm this England.” Obama was left standing with his glass in the air as the Queen stared straight ahead and the guests stood like pillars of salt.

Obama can hardly be faulted for the triviality of his remarks. As with petite fours, it is expected that dinner will end with a confection of platitudes. But what the mis-toast revealed was that Obama had no idea of whom he was addressing.

It would be too fine a point to complain that Obama’s remarks treated Her Majesty as some species of civil servant about to receive a gold watch for years of faithful service. After all, such expressions were the essence of Archbishop Carey’s sermon at the Queen golden jubilee.

The difficulty on this occasion was that the comments came from a guest and, as such, stood at the very line between gratitude and condescening commendation. This was, after all, a state dinner and it was not entirely beyond question that the head of one state should be grateful for the “service” rendered by the head of another. If there was redemption here it came from the fact that Obama had just previously belittled himself to the level of a prime minister.

But what Obama most evidently did not get, is that he was not talking to a person but rather to the personification of the state. The United Kingdom is precisely that: a monarchy. What does Obama think “Her Majesty’s Government” means? In speaking to her, at a state dinner, he speaks “to England”.

Because under God the monarch is the next highest thing, a toast cannot begin but can only end with “to the Queen”. She is the sum of the parts, the ne plus ultra -- which is why the musicians were correctly on cue. Who would have expected that after raising a toast to the country as a whole he would then go on to extol polo ponies and the various parts?

Obama may have gone to Harvard, but he does not come from a coherent tradition. Couldn’t the State Department have prepped him? After all that’s what eunuchs are for.