The Washington Post

WATCH: At State of the Union, handshakes and fist bumps

President Obama has a lot of handshaking to do at the annual State of the Union address. If you plan to greet him there, leave those high fives and questions for him at home. (JulieAnn McKellogg/The Washington Post)

We’ve come a long way since 2008, when the sight of then-candidate Barack Obama fist-bumping his wife sent Washington watchers into a frenzy (“terrorist fist jab,” anyone?).

These days, it’s become standard practice among politicians. Just watch on Tuesday as the president makes his way into the packed House chamber for his annual State of the Union address. During that looong trip down the aisle, there will be handshakes, hugs, and, increasingly, fist bumps.

Last year, Obama’s pre-speech “exploding” version of the dap with Sen. Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican who had returned to the Capitol after suffering a stroke the previous year, went viral. And then there was that amazing interaction between Secretary of State John Kerry and rapper Snoop Dogg, which was caught on video and won the Internet’s heart earlier this month.

Experts say the modern pol should probably have more moves in his or her repertoire than the more traditional greetings. (For the record, future historians might mark the moment when the move become mainstream for politicians that night in 2012 when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich touched knuckles with “Jersey Shore”‘s Snooki.)

“For politicians, having a little variety is a good thing,” says Pamela Eyring, the president of the Protocol School of Washington, who notes that when in doubt, stick with formality when interacting with a politician. In the right context, though, a fist bump “is totally appropriate.”

GOP consultant Kevin Madden, who worked on both presidential campaigns of Republican Mitt Romney, says the shock value is gone — and then some. “It’s like the 2014 version of ‘The Macarena,'” he says. “It’s now something your parents do to look hip or cool.”

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.