The political rules of hugging have changed.
Gov. Charlie Crist's downfall in the Republican Party is often clocked from the moment he hugged President Barack Obama in February 2009. Obama, in the early stages of his attempt to reach out to the other party, praised Crist's support of his stimulus spending during a Florida visit, and the governor praised right back.
The public presidential hug has a mysterious power. Once upon a time it worked mostly for good. Civilians who get one beam like they've been drinking. At party fundraisers, it's proof that the senator or representative is this close to the most powerful man in the world. In town hall meetings, it can show the president cares — whether it's Obama comforting a woman who can't get health care coverage or George Bush comforting the daughter of a 9/11 victim.
But starting with Sen. Joe Lieberman, the hug became political poison. Democrats used his embrace of George W. Bush, and Bush's peck on the cheek, to help force the Connecticut senator out of the party in 2006. Democrats used John McCain's hug with George Bush to show that his claims to being a maverick were hollow. Hugging is so fraught with danger that even Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican whose conservative bona fides are beyond question, received critical letters when he hugged Obama before the State of the Union in January.
Hugging body language will get careful consideration this election year. But like so much else in politics, hugging is a lot more complicated than it used to be. In an effort to understand this evolving and important story, and as a public service, I have compiled a list of some types and levels of political hugging.
The huggee who doesn't want to be hugged: John McCain and George Bush.
The huggee who regrets it later: Joe Lieberman and George Bush.
The huggers who should be but aren't comfortable: McCain and Sarah Palin.
The huggers who want to, but shouldn't: Bill Clinton and Monica.
The hug heard 'round the world: Hillary Clinton and Suha Arafat.
The huggers who should probably get a room: Tipper and Al Gore.