Aretha Franklin sang it, “Respect,” and the Obama administration is making it a watchword of both foreign and domestic policy. Obama’s repeated invocation of “respect” isn’t merely a ploy, a tactic. It is driven by a deep egalitarianism. It is very Obama, and it’s America at its best. And it’s worth considering the recent handshake incident at 10 Downing Street in this light.
By A. A. GILL, New York Times, April 4, 2009
IT’S invariably the little things, the unconsidered, off the cuff, in passing, unrehearsed things that snag our attention, and seem to be telling of the bigger things. In the case of Barack Obama’s first visit to London and the Group of 20 conference to save the endangered habitat of bankers and real estate salesmen, it was the handshake with the bobby that seemed to be emblematic. In a forest of waving palms, this handshake meant more.
As the president stepped up to 10 Downing Street, he leant over, made eye contact, said something courteous, and shook the hand of the police officer standing guard. There’s always a police officer there; he is a tourist logo in his ridiculous helmet. He tells you that this is London, and the late 19th century. No one has ever shaken the hand of the policeman before, and like everyone else who has his palm touched by Barack Obama, he was visibly transported and briefly forgot himself. He offered the hand to Gordon Brown, the prime minister, who was scuttling behind.
It was ignored. He was left empty-handed. It isn’t that Mr. Brown snubbed the police officer; he just didn’t see him. To a British politician, a police officer is as invisible as the railings.