Handshaking, Hand-Clapping, Eye-Rolling

All you need to know about SOTU

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and John King shared this insightful exchange minutes after President Bush concluded his State of the Union address last night:

BLITZER: You know, at this annual event, sometimes the Republicans are standing and the Democrats are sitting. I don’t think we necessarily saw the Democrats standing and Republicans sitting although when the president did defend his comprehensive immigration reform more Democrats stood than perhaps Republicans.

KING: That was the one moment where the Democrats outweighed the Republicans in applause.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, about ten minutes later, delivered this line early in her Democratic response to the presidents’s address:

SEBELIUS:[R]ight now tonight as the political pundits discuss the president’s speech, chances are they’ll obsess over reactions of members of Congress, how many times was the president interrupted by applause, do Republicans stand, did the Democrats sit? And the rest of us will roll our eyes and think, what in the world does any of that have to do with me?

Good call, Governor! The campaign commentators this time focused their “obsessing” largely on two specific members of Congress — any guesses? — and what their hands and heads and eyes were and were not doing, and when. (Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly isn’t the only one, apparently, in need of an on-call body language expert).

Moments before the State of the Union commenced, Blitzer requested that colleague Jessica Yellin “give us a little bit more of atmosphere inside [the chamber].” Understanding what Blitzer was after, Yellin obliged:

YELLIN: Senators Clinton and Obama are seated at the same level about ten feet from each other. Senator Clinton walked over to talk to someone and Kennedy, who is seated to one side of Obama, reached his hand across Obama to shake Clinton’s and at that moment it seemed natural for Senator Obama to do the same, but he looked away. And the other senators seated around Obama all shook Senator Clinton’s hand while Obama turned away and talked to Claire McCaskill who was on the other side of his row. It seemed a somewhat awkward moment but that’s the politics of the State of the Union address in a presidential year.

BLITZER: There will be plenty of awkward moments as we await the arrival of the president…

Here’s hoping!

During MSNBC’s post-speech coverage, Keith Olbermann talked carefully about the headfake/non-handshake (HandshakeGate?):

OLBERMANN: We may have an iconic image that has nothing to do with the State of the Union address and this is from Scott Applewhite of the Associated Press whose caption suggests — we are not inferring things from this photograph — obviously, in red, Senator Clinton reaching across to shake the hand of Senator Kennedy who so rousingly endorsed Senator Obama, at the right, for the nomination of the Democratic party today and Mr. Applewhite says [Obama] turns away from [Clinton] as she reaches out to Senator Kennedy and that is the interpretation from man who took the picture. Not, apparently, captured on videotape so we have to take his word on that and with many years with the Associated Press apparently we can, but that picture is just a Pulitzer Prize right there.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well, my mouth is open…

Here’s how the New York Times this morning described HandshakeGate:

When Mr. Kennedy extended his hand and [Clinton and Kennedy] exchanged a brief handshake, Mr. Obama’s head turned the other way…” (Obama didn’t turn the other away. His head did it.)

And when Obama (or his head) wasn’t leaving Clinton (or her hand) hanging, he was, per CNN, totally spying on her to see if she was clapping! CNN’s Yellin:

YELLIN: I saw it at one moment, it appeared Barack Obama was peering over at one moment to see if Hillary Clinton had stood to applaud for something. There is always the politics of who stands up. But, you know, a very civil evening. I have not seen them all night, Wolf, shake hands. They’re so close together and neither has greeted the other. Very interesting dynamic.

Perhaps this, per The Hill, was the you-stand-I-sit moment Yellin observed but for which she was unable to provide context?

When Bush proclaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt,” Clinton sprang to her feet in applause but Obama remained firmly seated. The president’s line divided most of the Democratic audience, with nearly half standing to applaud and the other half sitting in stony silence.

And turns out, Hillary, too, was doing some furtive sidelong-glancing of her own! (Again, The Hill):

In one instance Clinton appeared to gauge Obama’s response before showing her own.

When Bush warned the Iranian government that “America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf” Obama jumped up to applaud. Clinton leaned across Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), seated to her left, to look in Obama’s direction before slowly standing.

And the dissection of all of this sitting, standing, and stealing-of-glances will no doubt continue on cable all day.

Rolling your eyes yet?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.