Glad Handers' Weary Palms
George W. Bush raised his palm after shaking hands in four cities. "Look at that," he said, displaying red and swollen knuckles. Bill Bradley rubbed the web of flesh between his thumb and forefinger and lamented: "Sometimes it hurts right here."
Most politicians, whether running for the local sanitation board or the White House, enjoy stabbing a palm into a sea of fingers. But it's not painless.
Glad handing is tough on the hands. It's grimy, too. There are rows of outstretched hands cold, clammy, sweaty and coated with germs - all waiting to be gripped by a grinning politician.
Well, not Donald Trump. The billionaire presidential contender, who has a germ phobia, doesn't like the greeting ritual. He keeps antiseptic hand wipes in his limousine, and earlier this month passed out little bottles of Purell hand sanitizer stamped with his campaign Web address to reporters in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands. I happen to be a clean-hands freak," he said.
Trump isn't the only politician to grab for a Sani-Cloth. Elizabeth Dole has used them in her car to cleanse her hands after campaign stops.
"I've gone up to people who have said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, my hands are wet,'" Dole said. She shakes them anyway. "You just do it and move on."
President Clinton uses the germicidal hand wipes, too, but he was too hungry to worry about germs one night during the 1992 campaign when he stopped at watering hole in Dorchester, Mass. A woman handed him a home-baked pie. "He was hungry and he just tore into it with his hand," said a Clinton friend.
Clinton is an exuberant hand shaker who extends both arms into a crowd to grab and squeeze supporters' arms, hands and fingers.
It comes with the job, says Vice President Al Gore. "When you do it as much as I do, no, it doesn't hurt," Gore said.
To avoid injury, some politicians grab only the fingers of outstretched hands to bypass knuckle crunches.
"Some guys like to crush your hand," Bradley said. "The idea is to get there quick if it's a big guy. Get there first, and you have a chance to control the grip."
Said Bush: "After months of campaigning, my hands are now in pretty good handshaking shape as long as no one tries a vise grip. I'm good for 1,000 or 1,200 shakes a day before redness and swelling set in."
In 1863, President Lincoln worried his signature on the Emancipation Proclamation would appear shaky as he just spent more than three hours shaking hands. "When the pen touched the page, he did not hesitate, but the signature did show the effects of a little tremor in the aching hand," writes historian William Seale.
John F. Kennedy's hand looked like it had been clawed by a cat after he greeted plant workers one frosty morning in Wisconsin in 1960. Kennedy aide David Powers wrote: "Jack's bare right hand, swollen and blue frothe cold, was scratched and bleeding."
"I remember once in Norway, his hands were all bloody," said National Geographic's Bart McDowell of then Vice President Johnson.
President Theodore Roosevelt shook hands with a record 8,150 people at the New Year's Day open house at the White House in 1907, according to Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris. Afterward, he wrote, Roosevelt retired upstairs to "privately, disgustedly, scrub himself clean."
By Deb Riechmann
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