We've established that The Washington Post Style section likes to be snarky. In the Post's effort to cover substantive news and issues, the snark will often get in the way. It's almost like they're trying to entertain us, rather then inform us. Since when does an important, serious, American news organization behave that way? Oh wait, never mind. Most recently, Style writer Paul Farhi, observed that President Bush likes to embrace people and doesn't mind reporters photographing him doing it. Fahri covers a nice range of issues (hugging was first mentioned by The Economist in July 2006), but the snark permeates the piece:
The wildfires in Southern California this week have served to remind the world once more about one of the singular and underappreciated skills of George W. Bush: The man is a generous hugger.
There he was, amid the charred remains of some formerly upscale neighborhood, embracing the weary and the dazed victims of the fire. He made a little speech as one of the unfortunate locals was snuggled up to his side, his arm clinching her close. The gesture suggested strength, solidarity, compassion. The resident looked almost reassured.
Long after his presidency is history, some of the most memorable images of Bush's years in office will involve hugs. Flip through the mental photo album: Bush, standing on that legendary rubble pile on Sept. 14, 2001, one arm vise-clamping a firefighter, the other gripping a bullhorn; Bush, in New Orleans and Mississippi, handing out embraces like the Red Cross hands out relief supplies; Bush, at Virginia Tech, hugging the relatives of 32 murdered students.
For a president who doesn't necessarily come across as a touchy-feely guy, he sure does touch a lot. In just the past six months, according to a database search, he has hugged hundreds of people in public: the families of dead firefighters and police officers; the parents of a posthumous Medal of Honor winner; workers at a Nashville bread company; the mayor of Huntsville, Ala.; the jockey who rode the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby; the survivors of a Kansas tornado; departing political mastermind Karl Rove; press secretary Dana Perino. He touches nobodies and world leaders alike.
The act of hugging and greeting other people is a fascinating issue, and it says a lot about one's personality and culture. My wife and I watched the excellent Kite Runner over the weekend, and we were struck by the formalism of Afghani culture, particularly in their greetings.
I don't sense that America has any well-established greetings customs. It tends to range from the fairly awkward, formal, stiff handshake to a peck on the check. Somewhere in between those two extremes is the hug, which has many varieties from the awkward side-hug to the full embrace.
Farhi gets into the formalism and lack thereof in presidential history, but really doesn't get beyond the former occupants of the White House. Farhi could have asked what kind of hugger Bush tends to be. A church hugger? A Texan hugger? What's the difference anyway?
Speaking of churches, how does Bush's religious faith play into his tendency to hug people? What kind of church members tend to be huggers? To what extent is there a spiritual motive in a person wanting to embrace someone closely when greeting them or trying to comfort them?