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The president, the mayor, and the bow heard 'round the world

This story is huge, I tell you. Huge. The mayor was on Fox News Channel, even.

When President Barack Obama came to Tampa last week and climbed down from Air Force One to exchange niceties with some Florida notables, he appeared to bow to Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

That's right.

He bowed.

Clearly, a shocking sign of weakness. My God, man, why not just lie down on the tarmac and expose your soft underbelly?

Since then, the scene captured in a St. Petersburg Times pool photo has gone 'round the world, because apparently we don't have enough war, health care issues or deadly sticking car accelerators to talk about. The word "groveling" has been used, that photo analyzed down to determining the president was roughly at "a 45-degree angle."

But seriously.

Can someone please explain how being a gentleman — remember that fusty old-school concept? — becomes fodder for a political snarkfest? Have we really come to this, where a gesture some might even call charming gets you beat up on the blogs?

And seriously — that's all you've got?

I caught the mayor Tuesday morning just after she appeared from Tampa on Fox & Friends. I asked about the bow and she said she thinks the president was acknowledging her greeting. She called him "a kind, sincere and gracious human being."

"I don't know what the debate is about," she said to me and earlier to the guys on Fox.

When you are a woman of status, this happens sometimes, particularly with older men raised to be — here's that word again — gracious. She gets called "Madam Mayor," too.

Like Obama, Iorio is a Democrat, so presumably his error was that she was a mere mayor and therefore undeserving of such a courtly courtesy. He had previously taken it on the chin for bowing to international royalty. He seems to have this thing about formally acknowledging people. How strange.

For the record, where I was brought up, being polite to outsiders, important folk or those with whom you disagree — particularly those people — was considered the exact opposite of weakness.

Actually, what's funniest about last week's photo is Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, whom Obama had already greeted by the time of the infamous bow. You could almost see the balloon bubble over Crist's head with the words: Thankyouthankyouthankyou for not man-hugging me this time. (Some of us secretly hoped the president would grab the governor in a big bear hug anyway, but, no, apparently he's more gracious than that.)

Iorio says she went on Fox hoping to talk about the $1.25 billion we just got for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. This she doggedly did, even as headlines flashed on the screen: BOW … WOW!, A New Low?, Head over Heels and Why Bow Now? Standing Tall for America. The mayor suspects she will not be invited back soon.

But she was patient in explaining a moment that she cannot for the life of her believe is getting this level of scrutiny — Was it a bow? A lean? Or as a wiseacre blogger put it, an invitation to join him in the Virginia Reel? But she stayed polite. Gracious even.

I guess some public officials are just like that.

The president, the mayor, and the bow heard 'round the world 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 10:00pm]
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