Over the Hill

Politicians can be so touchy sometimes

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Have you ever noticed that when politicians mingle they frequently touch each other? I noticed it again Tuesday evening before President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union speech. The TV showed us the assembled members of Congress awaiting his arrival.

They shook each other’s hands, they patted shoulders, they patted backs. A few put arms around shoulders. And in male and female encounters, they frequently kissed one another’s cheeks or at least brushed cheek to cheek.

Then when Obama finally walked down the aisle through that mob, several women kissed his cheek or brushed it with their cheeks. I thought to myself, “I hope they’ve had their flu shots.”

And when the president finally made his way to the pulpit or whatever they call it, he reached back up and shook the hands of Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner. It seemed to me as though Boehner wouldn’t let go as fast as Obama wanted to. I’ve seen kids do that.

But there’s something about the political life that urges a person to press the flesh and pat backs and shoulders. I know because I felt that urge in 1980 when I ran for 1st District county supervisor.

I’d always been shy and standoffish before that. (I think news reporters naturally are.) But as soon as I started wanting everybody’s vote, I started shaking hands and patting shoulders and backs. And once I started doing it, I found I liked it. I guess I didn’t do it enough, though. That November I lost the election by 56 votes. But at least I don’t feel as shy as I did before.

Speaking of shaking hands, I noticed two workers doing that recently in a grocery store. Well, they didn’t exactly shake hands. I think it was more of a fist bump and shoulder slap. And it made them feel good; I saw them smile.

I’ve read that such greetings are often called “homie” handshakes. And they are often complicated routines including thumb grips, finger slides and fist stacking. They look like fun. I wish I knew how to do a couple of those homie handshakes, but they came along too late in my life for me to learn any.

And that brings me back to the State of the Union program. The Republican response was delivered by Sen. Marco Rubio. I didn’t envy him. He was all alone in front of the camera in a quiet room. There was no live audience to stand up and applaud him after every two sentences.

There wasn’t even a handy glass of water. He had to bend down and stretch sideways, almost out of the picture, to reach the bottled water. I hope that after his speech somebody gave him a nice homie handshake.