Critics of the Obama administration have been up in arms since Saturday, when President Obama bowed deeply to Japanese Emperor Akihito during a tour of Asia, and now Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert is throwing his tongue-in-cheek hat into the ring, and accusing the president of bringing "great shame" upon America.
On the Colbert Report Monday night, Colbert played a clip of former White House adviser Karl Rove telling Fox News host Steve Doocey that Obama's bow was "inappropriate."
"That deep bow from the waist, in Japanese culture, actually bespeaks weakness," Rove said.
"Yeah," Colbert concurred. "That bow makes Obama look weaker than Rove's chin."
Colbert then showed a clip of President George W. Bush greeting Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah by kissing him on the cheek and then holding his hand.
"If you want to look strong, you don't bow to a foreign leader," Colbert said. "You kiss him on the cheek and hold his hand. Okay?"
But while conservative critics pan the president's bow as "deeply offensive to America's history and traditions," among other things, experts in Japanese etiquette praised it as an appropriate show of respect.
"Bowing is an expression of respect and open-mindedness as a person greets someone," said Reiko Kasai, chief instructor at JAL Academy, an intercultural training school.
"It is part of a greeting, with which one shows his or her willingness for the meeting," she said, adding that given his height, Obama may have chosen to bow so low to make eye contact with the Emperor.
Bowing can also represent an apology in Japan, where it is not uncommon to see scandal-hit corporate executives doubled over in front of the television cameras to show their remorse for wrongdoing.
A palace spokesman also played down the controversy, telling AFP that Obama's bow looked "only natural and appropriate."
The Associated Press noted in an article Tuesday that former President Richard Nixon bowed to Japanese Emperor Hirohito in 1971. Hirohito was emperor of Japan when the country fought against the United States and the Allied powers during World War II.
-- With AFP
This video is from Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, broadcast Nov. 16, 2009.