Nothing comforts a child like a hug from his mother, or reassures like a father’s manly embrace. The hug is a reassuring gift of affection that means something. Lovers do it, and old friends might do it, but birds, bees, educated fleas and mortal enemies never do it. Even Frenchmen restrict themselves to a dry, impersonal cheek-to-cheek air kiss. (The hug is optional.)
Back in the day, the hug was not as ubiquitous, nor as meaningless, as today, and genuine big-dog hugs were reserved for friends of the opposite persuasion who might become more than friends. The rest was harmless puppy love. Hoagy Carmichael, with smoky, whisky-soaked baritone, once sang a tribute to someone particularly difficult to hug but who was nevertheless a welcome huggee.
“I gotta gal that’s mighty sweet/with big blue eyes and tiny feet/Her name is Rosabell Magee/and she tips the scale at three-oh-three.
“Oh, gee, but ain’t it grand to have a girl/so big and fat that when you hug her/You don’t know where you’re at/You have to take a piece of chalk in your hand/and hug a while and chalk a mark/to see where you began.”
Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton are big and fat, measured by body weight alone, but measured by ego all presidents and presidential wannabes are so big and fat that when they meet for a hugging bee they, too, have to hug a while and chalk a while. Martha’s Vineyard was at risk of sinking into the Atlantic under the weight of ego and self-regard when the president and Hillary waited to step up for their famous hug and a phony exchange of good wishes. All that kept the little island afloat was that the universe understood that neither one of them would mean a word of it. Both think the other is full of it, and for once they both get something right.
The days after she mocked the president’s explanation of his feckless dealing with the continuing crisis — “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ isn’t an organizing principle” — the huggin’ and chalkin’ was anticipated as if it were a match for the heavyweight championship of the world. Hillary spent the day before the bell trying to save a few copies of her latest book from winding up on the remaindered table, signing copies at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore. She said she was eager for a presidential hug, though without much enthusiasm. She had eight years to anticipate hugs from Bubba, after all, and even presidential hugging grows stale.
When someone asked about her late disagreement with Mr. Obama’s Iraq policy (or lack of one), she replied sweetly: “I’m excited about signing books.” She gave everybody the same greeting: “Bless your heart.” Hillary, though a yankee from Illinois, lived with Bubba in Little Rock long enough to learn that “bless your heart” can mean the opposite of what it sounds like it means.
If Hillary seemed a bit antsy, perhaps it was about selling enough of her books to avoid having to give back her big-bucks advance. She signed books as fast as she could. She doesn’t want to go back to being “dead broke” again.
After her rebuke of the president, meant to put “a little distance” between them, she retreated from her pose of tough resolve. She telephoned the president to “make sure he knows that nothing she said was an attempt to attack him,” an aide said. This was another way of saying she didn’t really mean it, which is what everybody knew, anyway.
But after all the foreplay, nothing. Not even an outstretched arm. No need for chalk. They did make it into the same tent at the Farm Neck Golf Club, a high-class joint where riffraff like reporters were not allowed. The president’s spokesmen declined to say whether they actually “hugged it out,” as promised. Hillary’s spokesmen would not say whether the president was actually on Hillary’s dance card, so we won’t know what happened at Farm Neck Golf Club until somebody writes a book. We don’t even know whether there was any necking at Farm Neck, though Bubba was there, and he danced once with Michelle Obama. Dancing was once frowned on in certain religious circles as huggin’ set to music (which is what makes it so popular), but no bulletins were forthcoming about the president and the Clinton heiress-presumptive.
One guest said there were “huge smiles and total abandon” on the dance floor, but he was surely speaking in high hyperbole. Total abandon comes later.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.