At the memorial for Nelson Mandela, President Obama gave those who pander to right-wing outrage two great opportunities to rattle the cage of Obama haters. The first was his handshake with Cuban leader Raul Castro; the second was the "selfie" he posed for with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Taking the second one first, critics said that it was disrespectful for the president to be clowning around with the two PMs in the middle of a funeral. Well, it wasn't a funeral, it was a memorial service that, for much of its long duration, was filled with laughter and crowds of dancing South Africans celebrating the life of their departed leader. The AFP photographer, Roberto Schmidt, who took the photo of the three leaders taking an iPhone picture of themselves was appalled at the reaction to his image.
Schmidt said: "The world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium. ... I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place."
The handshake with Castro was even less remarkable. If one watches the video of the moment, it can be seen that Obama is making his way to his seat past a line of already-seated dignitaries. Castro just happened to be first in the row. It would have been exceedingly awkward and truly significant if Obama had refused to shake the man's hand.
Nevertheless, the usual cranks on the right were appalled. Sen. John McCain even made the wildly off-base but predictable comparison to pre-World War II British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolph Hitler. This is the same McCain who gave a handshake and a slight bow to Libya's now-deposed and deceased crackpot dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, a few years ago.
Raul Castro is an old man running a fading regime. He's not even the Castro anybody cares about -- Fidel. More than a half-century of boycotting Cuba has not brought the Communist government down nor freed many political prisoners. In the meantime, presidents have been shaking plenty of dictatorial hands with blood on them -- most notably a long line of Chinese leaders.
Maintaining a belligerent stance against Cuban commies is no longer an issue with staying power for conservatives. Even in Florida's Cuban community, the young people do not care anymore. They would prefer more handshakes and a plan for Cuba's future.
Actually, the most remarkable thing about the handshake was the lack of reaction. Most Americans were not disturbed. Most are ready for the kind of reconciliation Mandela preached. It's another indication that militant conservatives are lagging way behind in understanding that the times they are a-changin'.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.