richardmcculloch2web.gifFirst we had the supposedly terrorist-inspired fist bumps between President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. Now it’s the handshake that shook the world, or at least shook the conservative segment of the GOP. Maybe Obama should just keep his hands in his pockets.

Just when I think that I can finally go just one week without the Obama haters saying or doing something ridiculous, here we go!

Critics of the Obama quest for diplomacy and the much-needed reinvention of our foreign policy have characterized each Obama overture to a “non-friendly” country as a threat to national security or a sign that the United States is somehow weak or submissive.

The most recent of these “suspect” overtures happened at the Summit of the Americas last month, when Obama shook the hand of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, a renowned and vociferous critic of the United States.

Critics of the handshake, primarily Republicans who I am sure yearn for the days when we were despised across the globe, have even gone as far as denouncing the fact that Obama smiled and touched Chavez’s shoulder as they shook hands.

Imagine that; a president who is actually gracious and cordial. The GOP must be beside itself.

Obama made it clear in a press conference following the summit in Trinidad that “I have great differences with Hugo Chavez,” and pointed out that, “It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.’’

But Republican rabble rousers such as Newt Gingrich have somehow managed to turn civility into an opposition talking point.

With all the terror alerts and intelligence dedicated to minimizing threats against our country, it is finally Obama who has taken the most fundamental and logical step in securing the country: Make friends, not enemies.

Whether conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Gingrich are man enough or aware enough to admit it, they are absolutely frightened about the prospect of Obama actually creating allies out of the countries and leaders that they love to hate. After all, global harmony is the ultimate antidote to the fear mongering that conservatives have used since 9/11 to keep the American public paralyzed and paranoid with fear.

By opening dialogue and systematically eroding the global perception of America as an imperialist bully, Obama may in fact usher in an era where we become known for initiating relations with an open hand instead of with a closed, military fist.

As Obama has made clear in his attempts to ease relations with Cuba, relaxing travel restrictions to the island was a gesture of good faith. Now, the ball of reciprocation bounces in Cuba’s court.

Contrary to the conservative chorus of critics, a handshake with Chavez is not an immediate precursor to the open-armed acceptance of socialism or a warm embrace of continuing anti-American sentiment from the Latin American leader. It’s a handshake.

It is no sign of weakness to be bigger and stronger, yet willing to exercise measured humility for the sake of productive diplomacy. Enemies often remain enemies when the willingness for dialogue and engaging in diplomacy takes a back seat to excessive pride. 

In all this political hoopla, there is only one thing of which I am absolutely certain: Hugo may have gotten a handshake, but all the complaining conservatives are the ones who need a hug.