My reaction to the sight of President Obama shaking hands with Hugo Chavez was a little different from that of many on the Right. Newt Gingrich, for one, compared Obama to Jimmy Carter and suggested that he was bolstering “the enemies of America.”
That’s a harsh and — I think — slightly premature judgment. All Obama did was shake the guy’s hand, and offer him a smile. Far from being a disaster, this could actually be a smart strategic move. Chavez, after all, derives much of his demagogic appeal from his claim to be an inveterate enemy of Uncle Sam. He thrives off provoking us and using the resulting reaction to “prove” that we are as bad as he claims.
Obama is a lot harder to demonize than George W. Bush, however, and by shaking hands with Chavez the president may be undercutting his appeal more effectively than anything Bush did. If Obama starts making substantive concessions to Chavez or other dictators, I will start to get worried. But I don’t think anyone should have a meltdown over a handshake.