So the abiding takeaway of President Obama's appearance and tribute to Nelson Mandela today, for some, might not be what the president said but what he did: Shake hands with Cuban president/strongman Raul Castro.
If that's all that some people talk about, they missed the speech and its meanings. It's a sad commentary on how some would rather see what they want to see rather than also listen to what was said.
Obama's tribute was one of the most-inspiring speeches from a U.S. president in years. Picking a great quote is almost impossible because there are so many:
It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well...
“I’m not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”...
In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what’s possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.
Tucked in all of this, however, was a focused backhanded slap against repressive regimes like the one Castro presides over:
Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.
We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
But many aren't talking about any of this.
Most didn't hear the speech broadcast in the U.S. this morning. They won't read it. And there's a far better chance they'll see the photo or video of the handshake. Twitter is abuzz. The partisans have donned their armor of lazy talking points, hoisted their tired 140-character standards of dysfunction.
A few have noted the president "bowed" to Castro. It's a function of the president being so much taller than the little dictator, and being decorous at an event on the world stage. The encounter just didn't look like an act of obeisance by Obama.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about the handshake. That doesn't mean Obama shouldn't have said more to Castro or criticize him face to face when he had a chance. But we should consider the text of the speech as well.
There's some historical significance to the greeting, as CNN points out, but reporter Christiane Amanpour's reaction was as instructive as it was over-wrought: "Castro! He's shaking hands with Raul Castro!"