09 December 2012

The Bill Clinton handshake

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton has definitely left his mark in social conventions. Thus he personally redefined the meaning of "sexual relations with a woman", he introduced "pot smoking without inhaling" and "cigar smoking without fire" (not without consequences for the expression "close but no cigar"). All this is common knowledge. But did you know the Clinton Handshake? It's a delicate manoeuvre to keep people away from you while giving the opposite impression. It was invented in order to keep terrorist-turned-chairman Arafat from publicly hugging the president. Arab and former communist leaders are universally dreaded for their embarrassing habit of hugging and passionately kissing men they consider as friends. Clinton, of course, prefers the other gender. Besides personal ones, he also had political reasons not to be harassed in front of the third party involved, the Israeli prime minister. In this interview, Clinton's collaborator George  Stephanopoulos offers backstage information about the Arafat-Rabin handshake.  

We didn't have a lot of time, but we did an awful lot of prep for a single handshake. We actually choreographed it. We did dress rehearsals in my office on the Saturday. [...] Everybody played a character and tried to figure out which order the handshakes go in. [...] And the big concern that morning was not the handshake itself, but the potential hug. There was a deep concern that all of these months and years of negotiations would be upset by Arafat's exuberance —when Clinton reached over to shake Arafat's hand, he would reach over to Clinton and hug him. And that would just be unacceptable to the Israelis, who were happy to be signing this agreement, but didn't want it to be seen like purely a moment of great joy. 

Q:  How did they prep to avoid a hug?

Tony Lake is playing Arafat. And Clinton comes up with the defensive maneuver that he would use in case Arafat goes for the hug. If Arafat went for the hug, Clinton would squeeze in underneath the biceps and block him. If that didn't work, he'd do a knee to the groin. Everybody broke up laughing.

Below, a diagram making things clear. [Not from the interview. CI]

A suspicious Clinton ready for the Emergency Manoeuvre
Try it, it works wonderfully.  While being purely defensive, it creates the impression of a most cordial welcome. There's a politician for you! Clinton did not have to resort to it, but his successor Obama applied it successfully to his own predecessor.

The Clinton Manoeuvre skillfully applied in action
To the best of our knowledge, the Ultimate Manoeuvre (a knee to the groin) has not seen presidential action yet.

Added January 16, 2013.  Recently uncovered document reveals Bill Clinton practicing with Cameron Diaz.