May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
8 years ago

To salute or not? Obama's handshake sparks debate

(CNN) – Fans of "The West Wing" remember well the fake President Josiah Bartlett's advice when boarding the presidential helicopter, Marine One: duck.

He might easily have offered this advice as well: salute.

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Those who closely watch the president's every step and gesture noticed Friday he didn't salute the Marine standing guard at the foot of the chopper's stairs. After boarding and then shaking hands with the pilots, he quickly exited the chopper, and offered a handshake to the Marine at the steps, then returned for the short ride to Annapolis, Maryland for the United States Naval Academy commencement.

It's become tradition for presidents to salute the military officers he encounters when boarding the official helicopter, a tradition which is widely understood as begun by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

But to not salute is not a break in protocol or a violation of any rule.

Nor was it likely a slight to the military. After all, Obama told the graduates in Annapolis later Friday morning, "Today we salute all the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in these wars, including 18 graduates of this Academy. We honor them all, now and forever."

The tradition is believed to have been started by Reagan. The story goes that he consulted the Marine Corps commandant who "told the president that as commander in chief he could salute anybody he wished," Smithsonian Magazine editor Carey Winfrey wrote in the New York Times.

It's not thought that President Dwight Eisenhower, who attained the rank of five-star general prior to his election and was the first commander-in-chief to ride a helicopter, saluted his pilot, and those before him would not have had the chance.

A hallmark of the U.S. military is that it is overseen by a civilian commander-in-chief. Some suggest the presidential salute to the troops is a sign of respect; others say it is not customary to offer a salute when out of uniform, and a sign of the over-militarization of the presidency.

And while the helicopter's rotor blades aren't spinning when a president approaches, there is still a reason for him to duck. It's to avoid hitting his head on the door opening which is a little low. (That noise you hear in the video is the auxiliary power unit on the helicopter running ahead of engaging the rotors.)

What do you think? Should the president salute the troops? Add your comments in the space below.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (1,580 Responses)
  1. Sniffit

    "What do you think? Should the president salute the troops?"

    I think CNN is desperately fishing for controversy because the "scandals" aren't panning out for the GOP/Teatrolls and there has yet to be a big Friday news dump from someone/one of the parties to give everyone in the MSM something to whack off about all weekend. You're pathetic.

    May 24, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  2. Malory Archer

    Obama's handshake sparks debate


    Of course it did because when the rethugs have nothing they have to make hay out of something. Honestly CNN, that you're even promoting this non-news item just further solidifies what everyone is saying about you; you've become nothing more than a watered down version of faux news.

    May 24, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    It is amusing to listen to the writer of this tripe, try to smooth over, what any former service member, knows, was a huge slight in protocol. An officer always returns a salute from an enlisted service person. Always.

    No matter how much you try to make Obama into a President, with your hollow words, he will always fail to make the grade.

    May 24, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    To journalism or not?

    May 24, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  5. Wake up People!

    Beating a dead horse huh Fox-lite???

    Will there be an impeachment hearing next week??

    May 24, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  6. Tony in Maine

    He is the Commander in Chief. He makes the rules. He can use the salute if he wants as did Dubya or he can shake hands which looks to have unsettled the Marine in your photo. No Sofa samurais, no four year vets, no four star officers can override him. He is the boss when it comes to things military.

    May 24, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  7. Data Driven

    Oh for the love of god.

    May 24, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  8. Daniel Martin

    The President, as Commander In Chief, has the perogative to salute or not. In this case rhe President did shake the Offucer's hand showing respect . A lot about nothing

    May 24, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    "It is amusing to listen to the writer of this tripe, try to smooth over, what any former service member, knows, was a huge slight in protocol. An officer always returns a salute from an enlisted service person. Always.

    No matter how much you try to make Obama into a President, with your hollow words, he will always fail to make the grade."

    You know, you could save yourself a whole lot of typing but just copying and pasting the word "Derp" over and over and over again.

    May 24, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  10. Norma Vessels

    There are a lot of rules that the White House is supposed to follow. There are a lot of rules that Congress is supposed to follow. There are a lot of rules that the Supreme Court is supposed to follow. I don't think any of us can say for certain, that there hasn't been a President, a Congressman or a Supreme court judge, that hasn't slipped up, fallen short, or plain forgot to follow a certain rule, however large or small. And since, this slip up is such a small, small matter, why are we even bothering to talk about it.

    May 24, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  11. PJ

    Guess you think this story is so nice, you print it twice. Scroll down.......same story, different verse. Kinda sad.

    May 24, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  12. LT Fang

    Next controversy: should he answer the phone with "Hello" or "Hi?"

    May 24, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  13. Tommyk

    Another reason for the right to impeach the President! The nit-picking by the right has become pathetic! Any slight is grounds for impeachment . . . any impropriety by the Obama Admin is grounds for impeachment whether Obama knows about it or not. CNN . . . time to take your Adult Pills and stop the drivel!

    May 24, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  14. Mike

    I agree this is a non story, but what made it a story is the people who think they know, but don't. Rick mcDaniel says " the writer of this tripe, try to smooth over, what any former service member, knows, was a huge slight in protocol. An officer always returns a salute from an enlisted service person". But he is WRONG in this case. The president is the Commander in chief, and therefore a commanding officer, but that does not mean he is an OFFICER. He carries many of the powers and protocols of officers, but he is not COMMISSIONED, he is ELECTED.

    in the military, there are Commissioned Officers, Non-commisioned Officers, Warrant Officers, and the Commander in Chief. You don't even have to be a commissioned officer to be a commanding officer in some cases, (it is rare, but it does happen in smaller platforms).

    That is the thing about traditions born of routine, people think they actually mean something, especially when they are not done. As the author said, President Regan started doing it about 30 years ago, No other President ever did before him. That does not make it a rule, or protocol, just a tradition, that has no reason for it being followed.

    I served in the military, as about half my family has, but that does not make it a tradition, or a protocol. I personally I care that there was no salute, He shook there hands, that is far more personal to me, and even if it is not for you. Shaking hands has always been seen as a sign of respect.

    To the author, come on.... is this really what YOU want to write about. Stop feeding the crazies. You work for CNN not Fox news.

    May 24, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  15. Pete

    Rick McDaniel,go climb back in your hole..Republicans are getting pretty desperate if petty as well that a president in Obama can't shake a soldiers hand as an alternative to saluting,no problem with that in being gentlemenly right!!He's showing respect and never having served militarily he shouldn't have to salute or should he like some of your warmongerers like Gingrich,Boehner and other republicans who act militarily but actually ran from the sight of enlisting or the draft ..They advocate something they obviously were scared of doing themselves and that's serve their country!!Remember republicans only about 30% of republicans in congress,senate past,present ever served militarily but advocate war for their lobbyists for the MIC and the democrates with over 70% served militarily past,present are the diplomates that don't want anything to do with wars,they advocate common sense and peace a cheaper ,safer alternative to what the republicans want and how could you argue with that!!

    May 24, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  16. Wake up People!

    Now Norma..... You know why.... Because the RWNJ's and the MSM have been looking under rocks for more than 5 years, hoping and praying to find something, anything, to bring him down.

    It's true and you know it is......

    May 24, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  17. Marine Officer

    It is a slight in protocol, however this isn't uncommon. I've have saluted The Honorable Colin Powell and received a handshake in return.

    I've also saluted Junior personnel and Civilians. The Marines at 8th & I in DC salute civilians walking by during the summer when they are conducting evening parades.

    There are so many "slights in protocol". Who cares?

    May 24, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  18. Bill - Dallas, TX

    The contemporary precedent ( since Reagan) for the Commander In Chief to salute, seems to suggest the new norm for Presidents is a salute, not a handshake. Since The President has, up til now, chosen to use a salute when entering and exiting the aircraft, he should have someone teach him how to do it peoperly. He, literally, waves his hand in front of his face in a manner chracteristic of someone who has no idea of what he's supposed to do. In Obama's case, he should either fix the salute or stay with a handshake.

    May 24, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  19. Marine Officer

    Mike, great right up. Ooo Rah

    May 24, 2013 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  20. Lynda/Minnesota

    Per the article: "But it's not a break in protocol or a violation of any rule."

    So... why then the two articles in one day trying to make something out of nothing?

    May 24, 2013 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  21. CraigRB

    There definitely should be Congressional hearings on this very serious matter....why, it's worse than Watergate.

    May 24, 2013 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  22. Trolling The internet

    Slow news day CNN? I'm bored.

    May 24, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  23. California Gary

    Well there any former Marine can tell you......Marines don't salute when "uncovered" (as the POTUS obviously is). Also, the POTUS may be the Commander-in-Chief, but he is not a "military officer". The POTUS can salute if he wishes to, but it is not really proper protocol and is certainly not required. If you are going to spout off about military matters, educate yourself first.

    May 24, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  24. Gary

    Shame on you Mr President. Your predisesor always saluted officers. He saluted them right after lying about WMD's.
    He saluted them right after starting two wars. He saluted them when he declared "Mission Accomplished". He saluted them when giving tax breaks to billionaires. He saluted them 100's of time on his way to Crawford Tx. He saluted them when they tried to warn him about possible attacts on Americans. Yep, that makes him better.

    May 24, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  25. Former military officer

    As a former serving officer and son of a career officer, I say "no" - neither the President nor any other civilian should offer a military-style salute. The salute is a specifically military gesture, and while the President is C-in-C, he is nonetheless a civilian. Moreover, the Navy (of which the Marine Corps is a branch) never salutes "uncovered" - i.e., when not wearing a hat. The President seldom if ever wears a hat.

    May 24, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
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