10 December 2013
Missing the point of a handshake
Predictably enough, Republicans are up in arms because President Obama shook the hand of Raul Castro while attending a memorial event for Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It's the usual complaint: Obama has somehow given extra prestige to a tyrant, if he hasn't also shown his true leftist leanings by greeting the Cuban leader. I'll concede the point that Castro, like his brother, is a tyrant -- or at the very least a dictator, since a distinction can be made. As Americans and as human beings, we should not like tyrants and ought to be wary around dictators. But let's remember the occasion. For starters, it was a memorial service, arguably an inappropriate occasion for the sort of snub Republicans would have preferred. More importantly, it was a memorial for Nelson Mandela. If Mandela was regarded before his death as the greatest man in the world, let's recall again that it was because he was seen as a peacemaker. At least metaphorically and most likely literally, he shook hands with the representatives of the apartheid regime in his own country, when he had more reason to snub them than a President of the United States has reason to snub one of the Castro brothers. But Mandela presumably was less interested in moral posturing than Americans in general and Republicans in particular. He had more practical and principled goals. Republican protests over the Obama-Castro handshake may be meant as moral posturing, but only prove yet again how petty Republicans are.