April 20, 2009

On this morning's Morning Joe, Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough were all over President Obama for having shaken Hugo Chavez's hand, and worse still, having sat through Daniel Ortega's anti-American tirade:

Buchanan: Barack Obama allowed himself to be disrespected. Now if that's the way he wants to do it personally, that's personal. But he's the President of the United States, and his country was savaged and smeared down there, and he grinned all the way through it.

Later, he continues in the same vein:

Buchanan: But I think he allowed himself to be disrespected. The perception was he was being made a mockery of down there. Chavez was up there putting that stupid anti-American book in his face. He gets lectured for fifty minutes, then he goes over to Morales and tells him how wonderful it is that he's an indigenous -- Morales is an enthno-nationalist. He believes the Spanish and the white people should be put down because they've run things --

Hmmm. I'm not so sure Pat Buchanan is the guy to be complaining about someone else being an ethno-nationalist.

Steve Benen is right: this is just another fake controversy like the DHS-bulletin flap, a hissy fit that lets Republicans avoid talking about actually fixing the nation's problems.

Obama apparently expected the excessive whining, and noted over the weekend the "great differences" he has with Chavez, including the Venezuelan president's "inflammatory" rhetoric and his unhelpful role in Latin America.

"It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States," Obama told reporters. "I don't think anybody can find any evidence that that would do so. Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela."

That, of course, doesn't matter. Gingrich & Co. need a new meme, and they settled on this one over the weekend.

What I find odd, though, is the underlying message. Leading Republicans make it sound as if America's stature is so fragile, it is easily weakened by casual courtesies at an international forum. President Obama, in contrast, acts as if America's stature is strong, and can withstand a handshake with a foreign head of state. Since when does the GOP find it useful to promote the idea of American weakness?

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