By Rick Saunders & Jeff Schreiber
Either way, the president and first lady managed to embarrass the Brits–and themselves–for the third time with lackluster gift choices for their counterparts from across the pond. Now, Obama apparently would like to meet the Queen. We’ll see about that; after all, his track record is already lacking, and we’re not so sure that the Queen is keen on the “fist-pound.”
The first embarrassment came within the initial stages of Obama’s presidency, when he sent a bust of Winston Churchill given to former President George W. Bush back to the British Embassy.
The second embarrassment came on British PM Gordon Brown’s first official visit to the Obama White House, when the president decided that an informal question-and-answer session in the Oval Office would be better than the official pomp-and-circumstance of a flag-draped joint press conference, the type seen time and time again during the Bush administration as a sign of just how special the “special relationship” is between the United States and U.K.
The third embarrassment came yesterday, when details of the customary gift exchange between world leaders and their families emerged in the British press. The lack of thought put into the gifts coming from our side of the Atlantic was enough for the Telegraph’s Iain Martin to write this:
If Obama, or someone in his inner circle, had spent two minutes thinking about what present to get Brown then they could easily have come up with something appropriate. He likes books. He loves American history. Get him a signed first edition of a good Robert Dallek book such as the brilliant Flawed Giant on LBJ. Come to think of it, Obama should read it too, if he hasn’t yet, as it reveals a great deal about how a Presidency can go so wrong.
Gordon Brown had given Obama an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet, which was once called HMS President. London’s Daily Mail noted that Brown’s “unique present delighted Mr. Obama because oak from the Gannet’s sister ship, HMS Resolute, was carved to make a desk that already takes its place in the Oval Office in the White House, after being presented by Britain to the U.S. in 1880.” Now that, Virginia, was a gift supported with some thought.
Some time later, Sarah Brown (the Prime Minister’s wife) showered little Sasha and Malia Obama with gifts, including a half-dozen carefully selected children’s books by British authors not yet available in the States, and outfits from British boutique Topshop, which just recently opened up its first American location in New York City.
First Lady Michelle Obama, however, apparently sent a helper down to the White House gift shop and picked up, for the Browns’ sons Fraser and John, two models of the presidential helicopter, Marine One. Each model, it seems, retails for $15 in the aforementioned gift shop. How thoughtful.
It sounds like the presidential equivalent of picking up a last minute gift from the local Walgreens on the way to the baby shower.
The British press referred to Michelle Obama’s gift to the Brown sons as “solipsistic.” To those of us with less than an Obama-like Ivy League education, that refers to solipsism, the philosophical idea that “my mind is the only thing that I know exists.” Take a few seconds to remember how Michelle Obama was finally–finally!–proud of her country for the first time when her husband was running for president, and “solipsistic” seems to fit the First Lady like a glove.
British journalist Sarah Vines explained a little better in a column for the Times:
Like all good guests, Sarah Brown arrived bearing gifts for the children, Malia and Sasha. And they were really nice presents. A bit of thought had clearly gone into choosing them: Top Shop dresses (with matching necklaces) and a selection of books by British authors. Lovely.
Mrs Brown may have two boys but she certainly knows the way to a little girl’s heart. These were gifts chosen in the true spirit of present-giving: to please the recipient, not the giver.
In return Mrs Obama gave the Brown children, Fraser and John, two toy models of Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. Fair enough on the helicopter part, always a popular choice with small boys; but Marine One? It’s not as though anyone needs reminding that Barack Obama is President or that he has his own helicopter. Short of giving the boys Action Man models of her own husband smiting the evil forces of neoconservatism, Mrs Obama’s gesture could not have been more solipsistic or more inherently dismissive of Mrs Brown.
Not only did she demonstrate that she spent approximately three seconds contemplating the needs of the Brown boys (having an aide pop to the White House gift shop for a piece of merchandising does not imply a great deal of thought), she appeared to show a most uncharacteristic lapse of judgment.
It might have been possible to overlook the incident were it not for the official photograph.
The White House released one picture of the two women and it does not appear to have been selected with any kind of special relationship in mind. There is a menacing bunch of pink peonies in the foreground and the angle is most unflattering to Mrs Brown, who has the air of a woman very much in need of a stiff drink.
Whether deliberate or not, the whole thing feels like a snub.
As for Fraser and John, their parents’ trip to America will always be remembered as the time that “Mum and Dad went to see the President, and all we got was this lousy plastic helicopter”.
And they say former President Bush lacked class.
To make matters worse, and to make the Obama White House look even more amateurish, President Obama returned the favor on the British PM’s thoughtful gift with what
the London press derisively–yet accurately and politely–calls a “blockbuster” gift . . . a collection of 25 DVDs spanning a variety of American classic movies. Worse, they weren’t even in Blu Ray.
The Daily Mail also wasn’t impressed, noting earlier yesterday that Brown is not known “for his love of cinema, although he once claimed on a trip to India that he was an admirer of Bollywood” and comparing Obama’s choice of gifts to “receiving a pair of socks from an unfamiliar aunt at Christmas.” The full quote:
. . . despite being leader of the world’s most bountiful nation, President Obama handed over nothing more thought-provoking than 25 classic American films on DVD. It was the equivalent of receiving a pair of socks from an unfamiliar aunt at Christmas – and a less-than-glowing affirmation of the UK-US bond.
Honestly, we at America’s Right are of the opinion that the Daily Mail needs to get a grip. What else, after all, did they expect? These folks are from Southside Chicago. You expected, maybe, something sophisticated or unique?
Interestingly, No. 10 Downing Street–the official address of the Prime Minister–refused to disclose which films were replicated on the DVDs. The Mail soon discovered, however, that the American Film Institute produced a box set of 25 top U.S. movies as a “special request” for the White House last month. The list of the films in that “special order” set includes, among others, “Casablanca” (arguably the best movie ever made), “Gone with the Wind,” “On the Waterfront,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Coming in at No. 13 on the American Film Institute list: “Star Wars: Episode IV,” though the Daily Mail and/or the Film Institute list excises part of the film’s title, the part after the Roman numeral “IV” being: “A New Hope.” Perhaps the original selection from the half-dozen Star Wars films was “Star Wars: Episode 1, The Phantom Menace,” though it would have been undoubtedly replaced when it dawned on someone that, with Obama’s radical roots presenting themselves in his economic policies, perhaps the suggestion that part of the gift include a “phantom menace” reference was not such a good idea. Besides, “A New Hope” has such a nicer cachet and ring to it. Pity George Lucas didn’t have time to incorporate a theme of “change.”
One other DVD noticeably missing from the set: “The Manchurian Candidate.” Go figure. Perhaps Gordon Brown has seen that one already. If not, perhaps we could give him a preview.
Rick Saunders is a freelance writer who splits his time between endeavors in southern California and the American southwest. He began writing for America’s Right in December 2008. Jeff Schreiber started America’s Right in January 2008.