I admit it: “Casablanca” is one of my all-time favorite movies. Which might help explain my reaction to President Obama’s “historic” handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday in South Africa.
In the “grip that set a thousand tongues wagging,” Obama shook hands with Castro at the Soweto memorial for Nelson Mandela. Oh, and he smiled when he did it.
The pictures — and the stories and commentary about the moment — rocketed around the globe because, well, we don’t really get along with Cuba, now do we?
What does it mean? Was Obama reaching out to all of Cuba, not just Raul? Will the U.S. end its half-century trade embargo on the communist island? Will Americans be able to legally buy Cuban cigars again? Will Cubans be able to stop driving 50-year-old American cars?
And, of course, will this hurt Obama, and Democrats, politically? After all, Florida is filled with folks who have no use for the Castros, not Raul and certainly not the numero uno Castro, Fidel. And everyone remembers what Florida meant for George W. Bush, and what it didn’t mean for Al Gore.
That’s a lot of musing about one little handshake. It reminds me of the old days, when the CIA and everyone else parsed the photos of the Soviet leaders atop the Kremlin during the annual May Day parade, trying to discern the meaning of body language and a person’s proximity to Nikita Khrushchev. Come to think of it, it’s what we’re still doing today with North Korea. Who says you can’t go home again?
Anyway, it got me thinking about the song from “Casablanca”: You know, “As Time Goes By.” And this refrain:
“You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.”
Yes, sometimes, a handshake is just a handshake. It’s a fundamental thing: It says, “I’m not going to be rude.”
Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t mean more. It should mean that we’re going to end the trade embargo. It should mean we’re going to deal with Cuba the way we deal with a lot of nations we don’t agree with: as part of the world community. And that doesn’t mean approval of its form of government, its human rights record or the events that brought Fidel Castro to power.
By time has gone by, and so the fundamental things should apply: courtesy, and common sense.