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Monday, April 20, 2009

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,

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.

I would argue that gestures matter for all of us. But for American Presidents, they matter more.


At 11:31 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

You can be diplomatic without signaling an endorsement of the dictator or the regime he represents. The right gesture can make all the difference in the world as much as the wrong gesture can mean nothing at all.

At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

im just curious...why do you insist on parroting the right wing lie that obama bowed to a saudi prince...and seemingly have no problem with bush holding hands and tongue kissing that very same prince?

woopee...reagan called a year, the year of the bible...same man who never set foot in a house of worship

a handshake is a handhake

reagan sat down with the evil empire

nixon went to china and hugged and danced with the chinese premier

amazing how your anger towards gestures has waited for obama

maybe he should walk around with one shoe in hand and bang them on podiums the world over...cuz that worked great for kruschev


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