With no Florida campaigns in his future, President Obama shook the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz at the Nelson Mandela memorial service on Tuesday morning, setting off an entirely predictable response.
The gesture came as Obama took his seat in the VIP section of FNB Stadium. As he climbed the stairs into the area, Castro appeared to be the first person he encountered, as you can see in the animation at right. Obama tried to move on, but Castro kept talking. Finally, the two disengaged, allowing Obama the chance to embrace Brazil's Dilma Rousseff — an only slightly less fraught interaction, given reports of NSA spying in that country.
But the handshake with Cuba's Castro! The immediate response was as expected.
Let's just say that handshake Obama had with Raul Castro won't play out well here in South Florida...— Amber (@Miami_Chica) December 10, 2013
But was there more to it? Was it yet another bow, of the sort Obama has been using since his first days as president to show that he doesn't respect America? (No; as West Wing Report notes, Obama is substantially taller than Castro.)
Was it a "sign of something more"? (Who knows.)
Politeness or a sign of something more? Obama shakes hands with Cuba's Raul Castro. http://t.co/Qljjv30gMg— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) December 10, 2013
Update, 2:15 p.m.: Was it like Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler? (Sen. John McCain apparently thinks so.)
Update, 3:00 p.m.: Was it an opportunity for the conservative site Twitchy.com to do its standard here-are-mean-tweets thing? (Yes, of course.)
Was it an opportunity to make jokes? (Yes.)
Is Obama shaking Raul Castro's hand the next Obama greets Hugo Chavez or the next Obama bows to Saudi King?— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) December 10, 2013
CNN's Chris Cuomo had one of the more rational interpretations, attributing it to the spirit of "forgiveness and reconciliation" that defined Mandela and the day. (CNN.com went with "brief but important handshake.")
Not to mention that this is hardly a new phenomenon. In 1972, deep in the Cold War, President Nixon traveled to China, meeting and shaking hands with Mao Zedong. Obama isn't even the first president to shake hands with a Castro. In 2000, President Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro after a U.N. luncheon in New York City.
A far more interesting question: what is the significance of the gesture Obama is employing near Castro in this photo? We welcome your knee-jerk speculation.