The Handshake That Launched a Presidency

As the Obama years come to an end, allow me a moment to reflect on the handshake that propelled President Obama’s run to the White House. The handshake was, of course, with me.

Yes, in August 2008, the junior senator from Illinois made a campaign stop in my hometown of Titusville for some reason and he shook my hand first, right after his speech, because he knew what was up.

I’m still not sure how they chose the Brevard Community College (now Eastern Florida State College) gymnasium as a rally venue, considering that Titusville is a conservative hotbed, but looking back, it does seem like a testament to Obama’s hopefulness and vision that he clung to throughout his entire tenure as president. Even though we had our differences on policy over the years (I’m way more liberal), I always admired Obama’s commitment to trying to bring people together even when it became clear, within days of his swearing in, that such bipartisanship was an impossible task. His relentless optimism is admirable, and, to a cynic like me, somewhat confounding.

But enough about that, what about the handshake that started it all? It’s simple really. I volunteered to help at the event and I was randomly assigned to handle the roving microphone for the bleachers behind the speaker’s podium. So there I was, all fidgety and nervous, standing behind the stage in my Obama shirt and faded jeans.

Before the handshake

Before the handshake

I performed my duties competently, meaning that I didn’t fall down or drop the mic (like in the clumsy way, not the baller way). And then it happened. Obama wrapped up his speech and, as he stepped back from the dais, I could see in his eyes that he was looking for someone to shake hands with. And that person was going to be me.

I stepped forward confidently and stuck out my hand as he made his way to the rope divider. He grasped my hand firmly and said, “Thank you for your help.”

Naturally, I looked him square in the eye and mumbled, “Thank you for coming.”

That’s right, “Thank you for coming.”

Thank you for coming?

Perhaps I was confused and thought I was at my birthday party and I was wishing him well as he departed? Or maybe I thought I was the owner of an antiques store and he had come in and looked around for a while, but ultimately decided not to buy anything?

Sigh. Anyway, despite being greeted like a birthday party guest or customer at an antiques store, the future president remained unflappable as always. Instead of laughing in my face, he simply moved on. That was the moment I knew things were going to work out for him.

So, one last time, Thanks Obama. Thanks for your years of service, your grace under fire, your inspiring words, just last night, that being a father was still the most important job you have ever had, but mostly, you know, for not laughing at me.