What's in a gesture?Some people might minimize the significance of President Obama's warm handshake with Hugo Chavez this past week or his bow to Saudi King Abdullah at the G-20. If you're one of those people, please consider this from Jay Nordlinger in the Corner.
Anyway, in my column, I mention Sharansky, and I want to quote him a bit. When he was in the Gulag, he met a fellow prisoner, a Christian named Volodya. And they decided to study the Bible together. (This was in a period when the Gulag authorities permitted it.) In his great and classic memoir, Fear No Evil, Sharansky writes,I would argue that gestures matter for all of us. But for American Presidents, they matter more.
We called our sessions Reaganite readings, first, because President Reagan had declared either this year or the preceding one (it wasn’t exactly clear from the Soviet press) the Year of the Bible, and second, because we realized that even the slightest improvement in our situation could be related only to a firm position on human rights by the West, especially by America, and we mentally urged Reagan to demonstrate such resolve.
Yep. What American presidents do matters — even small, seemingly innocuous things, such as declaring a particular year the “Year of the Bible.” You can encourage dictators or you can encourage political prisoners. It is very hard to do both. Sometimes — no, often — you have to deal with dictators, to advance some national interest. But it is not very American — not very decent — to forget the boys in the camps entirely.