In which presidents (and other important American people) shake hands with people


President Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro at memorial service for Nelson Mandela, December 10, 2013.

Right wingers are really, really freaked out and pissed off that President Obama shook hands with Cuban leader Raul Castro. Like, really mad. (Then again they’re always freaked out and pissed off at Obama, so there’s an element of “haters gonna hate” about this, but hey, when they lose their ish, bloggers gonna blog…

But is Obama’s hand-grip really all that out of bounds for an American leader? Well … no. It isn’t.

And of course, there’s the fact that the handshake is something Nelson Mandela himself would clearly have both approved of, and wanted.


To be sure, it’s not as if no U.S. president or vice president has shaken hands with, say, Fidel Castro...


Four months after leading a coup against the Batista government, Fidel Castro tours the U.S., meeting Vice President Richard Nixon on Apr 15, 1959. (Photo:

In fact, American presidents have met with leaders who, unlike Nelson Mandela, were unambiguously dictatorial and anti-Democratic:

Like the Shah of Iran…

Jimmy Carter shakes hands with the Shah of Iran, December 31, 1977. "

Jimmy Carter shakes hands with the Shah of Iran, December 31, 1977. “

Joseph Stalin (pictured with U.S. President Harry Truman and British P.M. Winston Churchill at the Potsdam conference in 1945…


China’s Chairman Mao (pictured below with then President Nixon in 1972)…


Soviet Leader Nikita Krushchev, who let us recall, at the time he met JFK was still the other half of “mutually assured nuclear distraction” with the U.S. …


Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (here with Ronald Reagan):


Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein…


Donald Rumsfeld, then a Middle East envoy of the Reagan administration, meets and greets Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1983.

Sometimes it’s just a little tet-a-tet with an un-democratic leader who nonetheless, has lots and lots of oil!

… here’s how John McCain, who went after President Obama over the Castro handshake, once felt about the late Libyan dictator Muommar Qaddafi (remember Lockerbie, Senator?):


Twitter never forgets, Senator…


(And neither does “the Google…”)

And in those cases where oil is involved, there’s often the need to bow to custom, in order to make a guest feel welcome, like the time George W. Bush held hands and smooched with Saudi King Abdullah:


… and let’s not forget that Saint Ronald of Reagan did more than just shake hands with Iran’s Ayatollahs. He (and his vice president, George H.W. Bush and their team) shipped them American armaments.

So to review: important Americans often touch the hands of people Americans would rather they not.

But shaking hands is always polite, no matter who the shakee happens to be (especially at a funeral.)

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2 Responses to In which presidents (and other important American people) shake hands with people

  1. Ben Cisco says:

    Well done. Someone should leave about 30 copies of this on Joe Scarborough’s desk.

  2. SemDem says:

    Hey Joy,

    Fan of yours. I post on DKos as SemDem and my blog is Consider adding me to your blogroll as I would love to add yours to mine, with your permission.

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