John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Terrorist Fist Jab

Posted on June 22, 2008



            I am still trying to get my head around E.D. Hill of Fox News, whose comments about Barack and Michelle Obama landed her in the unemployment line.


            For those who don’t remember, Hill called the Obamas’ knuckle-to-knuckle greeting a “terrorist fist jab” (TFJ for short).


            Like many duffers out there, I came into contact with the TFJ through Tiger Woods and his caddie Steve Williams.  This dynamic duo did the TFJ as Tiger terrorized golf courses and his fellow golfers, winning every important golf tournament known to man. 


            Soon, pasty-assed white guys all over the world were doing their own version of the TFJ, in hopes that by doing the same kind of handshake as Tiger, perhaps they too could play the game of golf.  It is this kind of wave that Buick was hoping to catch when it made Tiger its spokesman.  (If you buy a Buick, you too can hit a 350-yard drive).


            I was a late convert to the TFJ.  I was all about the high-five and the TFJ seemed too cutting edge for me.  The high-five, another handshake that started in urban America before becoming a tired cliché in suburban America, was a long-time favorite in my family.


            My uncle Bob would mockingly high-five me and my brothers, inevitably failing to connect, as a way of showing that no matter how hard we tried, we would never be urban cool.


            The high-five, however, became part of my being.  Back when I was training for a marathon (a long time ago) I would run with my then-fiancée (now wife, poor woman) and one particular friend, Amy Lee.  At the conclusion of our runs, we would always high-five.  After several months of this tradition, I learned that Amy Lee hated the high-five, and was only doing it under duress.  This fact gave me even more of reason to continue the practice, culminating on my wedding day, when after the conclusion of a successful wedding ceremony, I marched down the aisle with my new bride, and, you guessed it, high-fived our friend Amy.  It was quite awesome.


            Handshakes are an ever-evolving part of our social order. According to Wikipedia, “while its origins remain obscure, archaeological ruins and ancient texts show that handshaking was practiced as far back as the 2nd century BC. Some researchers have suggested the handshake may have been introduced in the Western World by Sir Walter Raleigh in service with the British Court during the late 16th century. The handshake is thought by some to have originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the hand holds no weapon.”

            The high-five is a variation of the Soul Brother handshake. Again, Wikipedia: “In American culture, there is a "Soul Brother Handshake," also called a "Power" or "Unity" shake, dating to the 1960s, begun among African-American men, and still widely practiced between men of various races and particularly among teenage boys as a gesture of close friendship. This is usually a three move procedure, beginning with a traditional, palm-to-palm clasp, followed in quick succession by a clasping at the hilt of the thumbs, and finally, by a hooked clasp of only the fingers, in the manner of railroad couplers. Variations include the above, followed by an exchange of facing palm slaps, as in "Gimme Five," or fist bumping, tops-to-bottoms, "the face slap", or knuckles-to-knuckles.”

            African-American culture seems to move from one form of handshake to another, in order to keep its urban roots, to keep it “real”, only to have pasty white-guys in plaid shorts imitate them on the golf course.  Hard to be urban when the guys in plaid shorts are doing it too.

            I can’t remember the last handshake that first became popular in “white” society and then moved to the urban world.  Sure, you had the “Bash Brothers” (Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco) who would bash their forearms together after either one would hit a home run.  But it was later discovered that the reason the “Bash Brothers” could bash each other so violently is that they were both so juiced on steroids, that they couldn’t feel any pain.  For the rest of America, those who weren’t on steroids, it wasn’t a practical alternative because it hurt too damn much.

            The Free Masons used to have a variety of “secret” handshakes that would mark their initiate’s progress up the order.  I don’t really understand what the Free Masons do and who they are, but since every US President has used a Free Mason Bible as they take the Oath of Office, you have to respect their power.  But the power of the Internet has exposed the Free Mason handshakes for all to see.  If you don’t want to be a Free Mason, but you want to shake your hands like one, you can do it with enough research and practice. 

            Fraternities all have their own “secret handshakes” as well.  I am not a frat guy, so I don’t know and don’t care what they do with their hands.  And I think most people agree with me on that one.

            Getting back to the TFJ, perhaps the reason it was so shocking to see Michelle and Barack Obama do it had nothing to do with their race.  Perhaps it had everything to do with Michelle’s gender.  The TFJ is really a man’s thing, and for a very simple reason.  Men generally don’t wear diamond rings.  Women generally do.  Having a women jab me in the hand with her diamond is not my idea of a good time.  Maybe that is what E.D. Hill was talking about.

            But what is the bigger message of the Obamas’ knuckles-to-knuckles handshake?  Can we expect a bare-knuckles brawl from the Obamas in this election cycle? 

            When the Romans started this whole hand-shake thing, it was a way of greeting their friends and associates with a sign of peace.  Are knuckles really a sign of peace, Mr. Obama?  I don’t think so.

            The TFJ was introduced to many non-golfing Americans by Howie Mandel in the television show “Deal or No Deal”.  Mandel greets his guests with a knuckles greeting because he is deathly afraid of germs.

            Do the Obamas have some sort of germ phobia?

            There are plenty of other even more far-fetched questions that can be sparked by this seemingly innocuous interchange between the Democratic nominee and his wife.  I will leave it to Ron Paul’s supporters to come up with some better conspiracies.

            I am not sure what this all means, but I do know that when Tiger Woods won the US Open the other day, he didn’t give his caddie Stevie a knuckle-to-knuckle handshake.  He gave him a long hug.  And maybe we can all learn from this example.  As Ari from Entourage puts it, maybe we should all “hug it out.”