The Blog

"America's first Pacific President?"

10:45 AM, Nov 14, 2009 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In his speech Saturday at Tokyo's Suntory Hall, Barack Obama called himself "America's first Pacific President."

His basis for that claim seems to be that he was born in Hawaii, lived in Indonesia as a boy, and, "when I was a young boy, my mother brought me to Kamakura, where I looked up at that centuries-old symbol of peace and tranquility -- the great bronze Amida Buddha. And as a child, I was more focused on the matcha ice cream....I have never forgotten the warmth and the hospitality that the Japanese people showed a young American far from home."

Perhaps that memory led to Obama's extraordinary deep bow in reaction to "the extraordinary honor of the meeting with Their Imperial Majesties, the Emperor and Empress, on the 20th anniversary of his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne." I must say, when I was Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and we met the newly-ascended emperor on a trip to Japan, it didn't occur to any of us in the official party--all of whom were, I think, perfectly polite--to bow.

In any case, Obama claims that his youthful encounters with Asia make him "America's first Pacific President." What of William Howard Taft, who served his nation from 1901 to 1903 as the first civilian Governor-General of the Philippines, with great dedication and considerable success? And what of John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush, who, four decades later, served their country in the Pacific Theater with great distinction. Don't they qualify--more than Barack Obama--as "Pacific Presidents?"

But then again, none of them bowed to emperors.