Swerdlick: Why did Barack Obama shake Raul Castro's hand? Home training
Anyone who can somehow remember way back to the olden days - May 1, 2011, to be exact - knows that President Barack Obama is quite capable of delivering a stand-up routine, dressed in black tie and smiling in front of a bunch of journalists, while at the same time a team of Navy SEALs crosses the Afghanistan-Pakistan border - on his orders - to kill Osama bin Laden.
So it's a little mystifying that critics would take his brief, polite handshake and greeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro as some sort of betrayal of Obama's true feelings. After all, if anything's been proved over the past five years, it's that Obama will send a personalized Kwanzaa greeting to somebody one week, then call in a drone strike on their compound the next.
The fact is, no one knows what Obama was thinking.
It might have been something colorful, like, "We're still loving that rent-controlled Gitmo beachfront, buddy." But it was probably more like a semibored recognition of just how gauche it would have appeared not to shake hands. Folks howl when Obama shakes hands with a Hugo Chávez or talks to Iranian leaders - but talking, and shaking hands, is a pretty big part of his job description.
Glenn Beck's The Blaze ran with the headline "Obama Shook Hands With a Communist Dictator," Breitbart's John Nolte called the handshake "more than a little unsettling" and conservative radio talker Michael Graham half-jokingly tweaked President Obama on Fox News with the question, "What is he going to discuss, tips on how the Cubans could improve the Obamacare website?" And there was the predictable Twitter backlash, with antagonists piling on with descriptions of Obama bowing and scraping in front of Castro before heading off to lay a wreath at Lenin's tomb.
In the end, though, it's really not much of a controversy - even on the right. But here's why shaking hands shouldn't be controversial at all:
- For those unfamiliar with the term, home training is a descriptor for child rearing that teaches the individual being brought up to comport herself with a measure of civility and cultivation. It's a term usually used to connote someone's tackiness, as in, "This guy clearly has no home training," and it's a bad look for how your mama raised you if you have none.
If you think POTUS should have snubbed a leader of a sovereign nation at a funeral then you have no home training and no common sense.
- For the uninitiated, you've almost surely seen two men of color of a certain age pass each other on the street and subtly nod as they pass. Obama's just old enough to fall into that category, and that's just how it's done. Under that ironclad rule of protocol, not to acknowledge Castro - even though he's an adversary - would have just been bad form on Obama's part.
- Plus, since Cuba is still an American adversary, ask yourself this: Why would Obama give the Castro regime any bulletin board motivational material by snubbing their leader? It sure wouldn't make Obama - or Americans - look any better if the headlines tomorrow read, "En Route to Podium, Obama Leaves Castro Hanging." And while it might have just been a subtle attempt at diplomacy, the handshake might just be Obama's way of messing with people.
These days, Obama's a pretty sour and dour guy, bogged down by sagging poll numbers and unable to fully enjoy his only form of recreation - golf - because even that gets him in trouble with critics. So after a long flight to South Africa that will be followed by a long flight back, who knows? Maybe all he was thinking was, "Yeah, I'll shake his hand. Let's see what happens."
Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root.