Inside the Beltway: The handshake heard ‘round the world at Mandela service

Journalists love nothing more than small events that yield big speculations and fancy headlines. Such was the case with President Obama’s handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. The moment spawned close to 3,400 news accounts within four hours, the headlines rife with question marks and wishful conclusions. A minuscule sampling:

“No high five” (The Economist), “Will handshake with Castro lead to headache for Obama?” (The New York Times), “All those miles, all that money and all we get is Obama shaking hands with Raul Castro” (Lucianne.com), “A sign of Mandela-like reconciliation?” (Reuters), “Just how big a deal is the Obama-Castro handshake?” (The Atlantic),” “Should he have snubbed Cuban leader?” (Christian Science Monitor), “Obama makes nice with Castro: the grip and grin” (Fox News), “A sign of things to come?” (Fox Business News), “OMG! Obama Shook Raul Castro’s Hand! Assume Outrage!” (Reason), “Presidential handshakes can change history or change nothing” (ABC News), “Handshakes that gripped the world” (The Daily Mail).

And there are historic underpinnings to the stray term “handshake-gate,” which became an instant Twitter hashtag Tuesday and a cheeky aside for many broadcasters. In journalistic terms, this one is ancient, having gained fame and traction more than two years ago among NFL fans who witnessed a handshake followed by a meltdown between San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

LOW AND LOWER STILL

It’s a cold shoulder for the White House. The chilly numbers: 57 percent of registered American voters now disapprove of President Obama’s job performance, says a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. That number is 92 percent among Republicans, 18 percent among Democrats, 62 percent among independents, 83 percent among conservatives, 19 percent among liberals, 50 percent among moderates, 43 percent among Hispanics, 6 percent among blacks and 65 percent among whites.

“A rousing chorus of bah, humbug for President Obama as American voters head into the holidays with little charitable to say about the president,” sighs Tim Malloy, assistant director of polling at the Connecticut campus.

THE TALE OF PATTY ‘N PAUL

Not everyone is happy with Patty and Paul. As in Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, and Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican — who have carefully maneuvered their bipartisan federal budget deal through the political landscape like nitroglycerine or a nine-foot wedding cake. But they got the thing, well, somewhere. Now there’s copious press, and the measured acquiescence from Democrats and Republicans who fear cuts or spending, but fear voter annoyance even more. Maybe there’s a very nice resume item for Mr. Ryan tucked in as well.

Then there are the grass-roots fiscal conservatives who will have none of it. Period.

“It’s disingenuous for Republicans to surrender the only real spending reforms accomplished under the Obama administration, and call that a deal. Immediate spending and revenue hikes without long-term reforms to spending and entitlement programs isn’t a deal, it’s just another manufactured, govern-by-crisis shakedown,” says FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe.

Heritage Action, the aggressive grass-roots arm of the Heritage Foundation, declares it “cannot support a budget deal that would increase spending in the near-term for promises of woefully inadequate long-term reductions. While imperfect, the sequester has proven to be an effective tool in forcing Congress to reduce discretionary spending.” And there’s one more voice in the chorus.

“Republicans should once again stand firm in upholding the modest sequestration spending cuts that both parties agreed to for the current fiscal year,” says Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity. “Otherwise, congressional Republicans are joining liberal Democrats in breaking their word to the American people to finally begin reining in government overspending.”

PAUL STILL PERCOLATING

We’re talking Ron Paul, here. He is still raising money, and still pushing talking points.

“The big government establishment of both parties wants you and me to shut up, give up and go home and leave the politicking to them,” the former presidential hopeful from Texas tells his followers in a new message. “They hate the fact you and me stand up for what we believe in. They hate the fact you and I support candidates who vote the same way in office as they talk on the campaign trail.”

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