PRAISING BP--BUT NOT THAT BP
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 06 August 2010
First, follow-up to last week...
More emails (and Commentary and Facebook posts) than usual received about the photograph of our president with his feet atop our country's RESOLUTE desk. Nearly all remarks concurring with the Commentary's angle. One in particular left me speechless; it still does. In so many words, the note said the Commentary made the impression that here was, as has become White House lingo, a "teachable moment." No more to say other than you just never know who may be reading--one reason why, though sometimes pointed, I remain civil and respectful; always. That is the gentlemanly way. A couple of notes from fence-sitters sheepishly inquired as to what's the big deal. Well, on top of all included in the Commentary, how about the simple matter of the inestimatable influential power of a photograph--for words can move people but photographs can move them more; much more.
No better example comes to mind than the 1/400th of a second image hurriedly snapped by Joe Rosenthal of six warriors--five Marines and a Navy Corpsman--raising our colors atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. An impromptu split-second of an inspiring moment frozen in time more than 65 years ago--the consummate image of courage, sacrifice, teamwork, and the American spirit under the veil of anonymity that moved a nation then. It still does. The shot that was a fluke, a happy accident, is today a monstrous, stunning bronze Felix de Weldon sculpted that rests on hallowed ground in Washington, D.C.--it's a national icon; forever. Powerful. It bellows character--American style.
Mr. Obama resting his feet atop our desk may be a daily habit. He may do the same on furniture in family quarters. That's his perogative. When the photograph was taken he may have had his feet atop our desk for only a sweep or two of the second hand. Or maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Then again he may have been in that position mere seconds. It matters not. It was a breach of decorum frozen--maybe in 1/400th of a second--and released to the world. For millions, at the least, that unflattering image of our president will be forever emblazoned in memory--not especially impressive nor endearing but memorable. Surely not the way a president should be remembered. Surely not the way a president would want to be remembered; or so you'd think and want to believe. A bronze, of any size, unlikely. The image powerful but troubling. It, too, bellows, "Something is not quite right."
Thinking about the two photographs, side-by-side, of American men at work--on the right, six warriors raising our colors atop a war-torn mount during hellacious fighting and on the left, six suits-our president and five senior advisors in the Oval Office-strategizing while representing those same colors makes for quite a contrast; a contemplative one. Perhaps a miniature of the flag-raising centered atop and upfront on our RESOLUTE desk--quietly emitting a subliminal message into presidential decorum and decision-making--is a "decoration" worth consideration. Why not?
A photograph--a record of reality? Sometimes. Sometimes not. But reality is fleeting. A photograph endures--1/400th of a second can bring fame, and 1/400th of a second can bring notoriety. And that is reality. Like it or not. And that, for edification of the sheepish, is the big deal.
Now, to this week's business with an upfront disclaimer: Though I appreciate it is complicated, I profess ignorance as to exactly how our president's schedule is drafted, reviewed, edited, smoothed, approved, coordinated, controlled, and oft times amended on the fly to capitalize on the unpredictable. However, most probably anything is possible if the president wants it.
"Upon your shoulders and those of young fellows like you, as you grow into manhood, will rest the hope of the free world." Joseph A. Brunton, Jr. (1902-1988)
Those two hump-backed letters--BP--in alphabetical order just will not go away for Mr. Obama.
BP--British Petroleum--and their (and our) spewing oil problem from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico has dogged our president for months. Though stopped, it's not over. There's the matter of lives and livelihoods ruined. There's the matter of the final repair. There's the matter of the clean-up. There's the matter of the multi-faceted and complicated economic recovery--which may never be completely realized. There's the matter of returning to drilling for crude--the fuel for our economic engine. It's a lulu of a mess! Yet some "experts" are now saying it may not prove to live up to calamity and mega-disaster billing. There are signs Mother Nature is licking the wound man inflicted. That makes sense. But where did hundreds of millions of barrels of uncontained crude go? Even David Copperfield, with gorgeous distracting assistants in skimpy costumes parading about, could not make that much goo disappear. So who knows what to believe. Regardless, it was preventable--had everyone from BP to our government only been prepared.
During the last couple of weeks, for a 10-day period to be precise--26 July-04 August, another BP product--of sorts, brought Mr. Obama into the, shall we say what has become routine, not-so-flattering spotlight of political and public scrutiny and criticism.
But last week's BP problem had nothing to do with British Petroleum. It had nothing to do with oil. And it had nothing to do with Bristol Palin; nor mum, Sarah. But it did have a little something to do with Great Britain.
Last week's presidential problem centered around 45,000 young men who'd gathered at an Army fort, A. P. Hill, in Virginia, and not all that far from Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. That celebration--that grand old jamboree of Scouting--has rich history dating back to 1937 when some 25,000 Scouts pitched camp around the Washington Monument and Tidal Basin.
Our president, who enjoys title as Honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America, was invited to attend this year; a special one indeed. He was afforded a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity--a 100th birthday party--to make an appearance and speak to and visit with a captive audience of young men who will, in the not-too-distant future, stride into adulthood and one day vote. These fine young men--many of whom will don military uniforms and likely go off to war, eventually lead businesses, run for and hold political office; maybe even president, coach little league teams, become Scoutmasters, and otherwise continue serving their communities and country. These fine young men--among the best of their generation.
But Mr. Obama opted not to attend the milestone assembly. Perhaps a decision he and his closest advisors will come to regret as a proper and public image opportunity wasted. There were more pressing matters on his plate.
Puzzlingly, our president chose to sit with five women on an always chatty sometimes catty daytime talk show--The View. And in the days following his boob tube appearance there was glad-handing and fundraising, a stop in New Jersey, and a horn-blowing drive-by for his automobile workforce in Detroit; where an Obama Seal of Approval, a bumper sticker, adorns most every car in the parking lot and all coming off the assembly line sport some sort of government certification.
Last week's Commentary revolved around an unflattering photo op. This week, among other things, to point out an incredibly patriotic and commanding photo op was missed--our president surrounded by tens of thousands of Scouts. A powerful presidential moment for sure sacrificed for one of him lounging amongst giddy, blushing women asking silly questions; something one who plays a president on a TV-drama might do. Something similar to a Saturday Night Live skit. Odd. Why? For though both welcoming, friendly audiences, the uniformed crowd the one most fitting, and deserving, for a president's visit.
Let's see, roll up the sleeves and rub elbows with the youth and future of our country and world--maybe even inspire them--or not. Hmm. By all appearances--and it's already been pointed out by those out of step with our president--it's business as usual; with priorities for our country hopelessly scambled. Perceptions
--they're reality. Even some Democrats were appalled. And some but not much noise from the GOP--why, after all, interrupt an unpopular president sprinting down the path of self-destruction? Better to side-step, smile, and welcomingly gesture with the right hand so as to say, "Please, sir, be my guest."
But, not to completely snub the young men, our president was reported to have sent a message via video. Well, 45,000 young men--among our country's and the world's best--gathered for friendship, camaraderie, recreation, competition, teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, etc. and our president sends a video message? Stunning. An appropriate comment does not come to mind other than to note his three predecessors managed to fit a Boy Scout jamboree into their schedules.
Why not send a video to The View? Or simply reschedule?--the program is on daily. The Boy Scouts celebrate a 100th Anniversary, well, once, and there was a 10-day window to squeeze in a visit. Send the vice president to the 'shake and grins' and to Jersey. And the car czar to the motor city--with presidential video message and bumper stickers in hand--for they'd love him however the appearance.
The Boy Scouts of America are rich in history and a significant and important outfit for developing young men --some of whom went on to become president. John F. Kennedy, a naval officer and war hero, and Senator, was the first Chief Executive to have a Scouting background. Presidents Reagan and Bush (41) had close ties to the Scouts, and Presidents Clinton and Bush (43) were Scouts. Gerald Ford was an Eagle Scout and said, "I can say without hesitation, because of Scouting principles, I know I was a better athlete, I was a better naval officer, I was a better Congressman, and I was a better prepared President."
So what does BP have to do with the Boy Scouts of America, their jamboree, and our president's conspicuous absence?
BP is the moniker given to Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) founder of Scouting and regarded as 'Chief Scout of the World.' Though best known for his work establishing Scouting, BP served thirty-four years in the British Army achieving the rank of lieutenant general. He was a war hero and knew a little something about leadership. And BP knew a little something about the importance Scouting could play molding boys into responsible young men; into leaders.
So who was Joseph A. Brunton, Jr.--the author of today's opening quote? Certainly not a household name but he served as Chief Scout Executive for the Boy Scouts of America (1960-1966). His words appear on page 7 in the second sentence of the closing paragraph in the Scouts Handbook--1965 edition. That book was the 3rd printing of the 7th edition--a 448 page volume that sold for $1.00. Without question an investment with untold returns to any boy who studied, applied, and took the content to heart--it has a long-held slot of honor in my library. The Handbook is now in its 12th Edition and it's available online. Still 448 pages, content has kept up with the times for the first chapter addresses safety--that is, safety on the Internet. Testament that Scouting is neither old-fashioned nor outdated--it's not only keeping pace with our ever-changing culture but leading the way.
Perhaps words along the lines of Mr. Brunton's, and much more, would have been fitting for our president to personally deliver to the Scouts. Yes, of course. Especially since we are a nation at war--have been for nearly 10 years, and will be for as far out as we can see.
When established in 1910 (08 February), the Boy Scouts of America chartered their purpose as, "To teach patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values." Sounds like good background for a president. Twenty-seven years later, the year of that first jamboree, the outfit's second in command, George J. Fisher, opined their mission, "Each generation as it comes to maturity has no more important duty than that of teaching high ideals and proper behavior to the generation which follows." More good background for a president.
Today's mission statement, "To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law." Still more good background for a president.
From memory, the Scout Oath...
"On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."
And 12 Points of the Scout Law...
"A Scout is, Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent."
Troop 9, Burlington, NC, under the leadership of Scoutmasters Mr. Gabriel and later Mr. Davis--good times and lessons for a lifetime.
And how serendipitous the Boy Scout motto happens to be "Be Prepared"--BP.
When BP--Baden-Powell--was queried about this as to being prepared for what? He replied, "For any old thing." Interesting.
Had BP--British Petroleum--followed the BP--Be Prepared--advice of one of their distinguished countrymen, BP--Baden-Powell--the senseless oil spill in our waters may not have happened or, at the least, been immediately remedied and the damage--environmental, economic, and political--minimized.
"Be Prepared." Good advice for a Scout. Good advice for an oil-drilling company. Good advice for a president. Good advice for a country. Good advice for anyone.
And the Scout Slogan--"Do a Good Turn Daily." Our president sending a video to the Scouts was common courtesy. Making a personal appearance at their centennial jamboree, no matter the inconvenience or disruption to his schedule, would have been a Good Turn. Some argue a duty.
Though Scouting is not the only worthwhile outfit to mold youth into better citizens, might our country be a bit more physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight were more of our youth introduced to Scouting? Undoubtedly.
So praise for BP--Baden-Powell--for his idea continues to grow and adapt; globally. And thanks to Scouting, America and the world has been a little bit better place. And will be tomorrow.
What a shame our president, our honorary top Scout, did not board Marine One with a couple of Scouts--a Tenderfoot and an Eagle--and show at the jamboree. An opportunity missed to credibly boost his tarnishing image while promoting Scouting--something that would be especially good for our country--like only a president can. And to think the Scouts may have presented our president a merit badge for his public service and communications accomplishments. Now there would have been an invaluable photograph for the White House's PR machine. Maybe not a Rosenthal moment but something akin to a Norman Rockwell (who painted Scouting extensively) scene of all that is Americana. Yes, what a crying shame our president chose to be elsewhere.
Would BP--Baden-Powell--be disappointed? Surely. But mostly for the young men--his Scouts.
"Scouting", whether Tenderfoot or Honorary President, as their saying goes, "rounds a guy out."
Politics aside, a rounded guy's objective observation and gut sense.
Infatuation passes. True love endures. But romance, of the fantasy flavor, always gives way to reality. Always.
Observation: Mr. Obama won the presidency largely on persuasive rhetoric, an infatuated public, and the perception of his willingness to take on responsibility.
Gut sense: Mr. Obama will be taking a hike--something Scouts and Marines know all about--because his rhetoric tiresome, public romance is waning, and perception he is not fully embracing responsibility with the character of a president; or Scout.
Step-off, rain or shine, is penciled on the calendar for high noon on Sunday, 20 January 2013. Route of march--north out of the city, cross the Beltway, hang a hard left and continue into history.
There's a conditioning hike in November--88 days.
Warning Order: Prepare and standby to saddle up.
Two Mottoes--two words each--to guide a life: Boy Scouts--"Be Prepared." U. S. Marines--"Semper Fidelis." Ways of life that have served many a man, young and old, well. And, in turn, our country.
Not to forget the Girl Scouts of America--ditto.
In closing, take a few moments to ponder words of wisdom from Robert Baden-Powell as to the aim of Scouting. It's uncanny how his thoughts, all of them, fold into last week's line--"The Child is Father of the Man"--from Wordsworth's poem "The Rainbow." Might his line be tailored, "The Scout is Father of the President"?
"A Scout is never taken by surprise; he knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens."
"An individual step in character training is to put responsibility on the individual."
"If you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talk."
"See things from the boy's point of view."
"The most worthwhile thing is to try to put happiness into the lives of others."
"The Scoutmaster teaches boys to play the game by doing so himself."
"The uniform makes for brotherhood, since when universally adopted it covers up all differences of class and country."
"We never fail when we try to do our duty, we always fail when we neglect to do it."
"There is no teaching to compare with example."
"The most important object in Boy Scout training is to educate, not instruct."
"In Scouting, a boy is encouraged to educate himself instead of being instructed."
"Success in training the boy depends largely on the Scoutmaster's own personal example."
"The good turn will educate the boy out of the groove of selfishness."
"A Scout smiles and whistles under all circumstances."