The history of the great and terrible power of the Obama handshake

July 10, 2014

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, practicing a look of utter disappointment. Or is it fear? (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Here we see Texas Gov. Rick Perry, preparing for the most difficult moment of his entire career. Shaking hands with President Obama.

The Republican governor had originally refused to greet the president as he stepped off the plane in Texas for a flurry of fundraisers and immigration-related meetings. He relayed the philosophical underpinnings of his misgivings in a note.

I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue.

Translation: "I would be happy to meet with you, Mr. President, as long as no one can see us."

Many conservative media outlets, like the Daily Caller, rejoiced.

Why would Perry decline a handshake from the leader of the free world? Have you not heard of the great and terrible power of the Obama handshake?

Good things have not happened to Republicans who jumped at the opportunity to shake the president's hand -- or even worse, accept a hug!

There was the time Obama went to go visit Arizona, and met Gov. Jan Brewer at the tarmac.

You can't see it in this CNN video, but sources say that Brewer pointed her finger at him! Instead of getting good press about Arizona's economy, she ended up having to talk about that tarmac meeting. For days.

A year later, when Obama returned to Arizona, here was the local news' spin on the story.

 

She will never escape the tarmac.

Go back in time a bit more, to Feb. 10, 2009, and you can witness how greeting Obama led to more than bad spin. It may have ... ended a career!

 

 

Former Florida governor Charlie Crist described the hug in his book, "The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat." That's right. Obama's hug didn't only become something he would have to talk about for the rest of his life, as this Politico headline shows.

It also turned him into a Democrat!

 

He walked out toward me.

Both of us smiled.

The applause was just about frantic. We shook hands. The new president leaned forward and gave me a hug.

Reach.

Pull.

Release.

As hugs go, it wasn’t anything special. It was over in a second—less than that.

It was the kind of hug that says, “Hey, good to see you, man. Thanks for being here.”

It was the kind of hug I’d exchanged with thousands and thousands of Floridians over the years.

I didn’t think a thing about it as it was happening.

But it changed the rest of my life.

Reach, pull, release—just like that.

And it wasn't the last time Crist hugged Obama either, per this National Journal headline.

Crist is running in the Florida gubernatorial election this year as a Democrat. In February, he explained his love of hugging to Washington Post reporter Ben Terris. “I can’t help it; I have to hug. Can you even imagine not hugging?”

In October 2012, another Republican politician greeted Obama on the tarmac. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The president was visiting the Jersey shore in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. After Mitt Romney lost the presidential election a few weeks later, many pundits -- like Glenn Beck and Howard Kurz -- reached the obvious conclusion.

 

 

 

A year later, Christie even gave Obama, gasp, a high-five!

By last October -- and a few months after the New York Times declared the existence of the "Obama-Christie marriage" -- Christie may have finally realized that he was in danger of feeling the Obama handshake curse. He made sure that the world knew that Christie ≠ Crist. Here's Time Magazine's report.

A year after that high-five, Christie is facing heat for the George Washington Bridge scandal. Coincidence? Probably.

But maybe not.

It's not just Republican candidates either. In December 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama met presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton on the tarmac in New Hampshire. It was not a happy meeting. Less than a year after the tarmac meeting, Clinton lost the presidential election. Yet another victim of Obama's tarmac encounter/handshake handiwork.

As you can see, Perry had reason to be worried. He had previously shaken hands with Obama on an Austin tarmac in 2010 -- only two years before losing the Republican presidential primary.

The power of the Obama handshake may be growing in intensity, too. Before visiting Texas, Obama made a stop in Denver. He shook hands with many supporters. One of them did not escape unscathed.


President Obama jokingly reacts as he shakes hands with a man wearing a horse head mask on a street in Denver. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

My word. He shook hands with Obama. Now he has a horse head!

In the end, Perry decided to take the risk and shake hands with Obama. Mediate was disappointed.

 

 

 

He took precautions to avoid the fate of those who greeted before him. If he had to shake hands with Obama, he was going to make it look like he was actually strapped into the life sucking machine in "The Princess Bride."


Texas Gov. Rick Perry waits to meet President Barack Obama on arrival in Dallas .   (Jacquelyn Martin/Ap)

It was a convincing performance. As he went in for the shake, he made sure to balance hesitance and resignation with a Clint Eastwood-inflected stare of pretending Obama wasn't actually there, leaving him speaking to less-politically volatile air.


(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Don't smile, don't smile. Don't smile. Look like you have a bad migraine. That's it! Everyone will know Perry was forced to shakes hands, and he will be safe from the curse.


(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

However, it was not enough.

Will no one ever learn?

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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