You like news quizzes, don’t you? Here’s one for you: Who said this, and who was he talking about?: “. . . and I know that (his) attitude is if he doesn’t think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he’s let our veterans down, then I’m sure he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve . . .”
No, it wasn’t President Woodrow Wilson talking about Gen. Blackjack Pershing; it wasn’t President Harry Truman talking about Gen. Douglas MacArthur, or President Abraham Lincoln expressing his dismay with Gen. George McClellan.
Trick question, obviously: It was President Barack Obama referring to “Rick” Shinseki who has been in charge of the Department of Veterans Affairs for a while now.
Did I misspeak? Or rather miswrite? Maybe, to follow the verbal protocol that most any American over 15 years old would know, I, at least, should have written that it was Obama talking about Gen. Eric Shinseki. I may have gotten it wrong all these years, but when you’re speaking publicly about anyone who has a title, rank or honorific, that’s how he or she should be referred to.
That sounds so petty, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not, and I can almost guarantee that any veteran, enlisted man, or officer, or for that matter almost any sergeant, lieutenant, police officer, doctor, professor, nurse – the list goes on – would be struck by Barry’s use of General Shinseki’s nickname. I say “Barry” because that was the name he liked when he was a student. Later, he switched to his given name, Barack, but, if you meet him, you can call him Barry.
Of course, this was not the first time the president was either rude or ignorant when talking about someone who wore, or still wears, the uniform of our country.
One particular gaffe sticks with me, because it showed a total lack of familiarity with the military. Lest you think I’m making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill, see if it grates on your sensibilities as it does mine.
Most Americans know that frontline soldiers have a medic with them, or at least nearby, to, well, save lives. A medic’s counterpart in the Navy, probably the Coast Guard, although I’m not sure about the Marine Corps, is known as a corpsman. Corpsman is, as you know, pronounced “core-man.” Unless you’re the president of the United States, that is, in which case you would say – argghhh! – “corpse -man,” as in dead body.
I am not talking about the president’s occasional unfamiliarity with things military as a subtle way to raise suspicions about his place of birth. As you know, when he first became president, there were some who insisted that he was not really an American citizen. They were known as “birthers,” but they didn’t really convince a critical mass of their fellow citizens to climb on the conspiracy bandwagon, and so the claim died.
Let me take this a step further. In many areas of American society, we work for, deal with, are friends with, someone who has earned a rank of title. In most cases, the “titled” individual would encourage the use of his or her given name when in private, or away from the office. But it’s a custom, a tradition, protocol – what have you – to use the rank, title, honorific, etc., in public. That would be an indication of respect for what the rank or title stands for. So to refer to a retired four-star general who served as Army chief of staff as “Rick” either indicates ignorance or disrespect.
That leaves us still looking for an explanation for Obama’s “informality.” I guess if you’re the president, the rules aren’t made for you.
Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]