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Monroe Anderson

Monroe Anderson

Posted April 5, 2009 | 05:39 PM (EST)

Much Ado About Hugging


Michelle Obama is a hugger. I know this personally because, the last time I saw Michelle, she gave me a hug.

So Thursday's international incidence with some of the British tabloids tsk-tsking her because she, gasp, may have hugged the Queen, doesn't come as much of a big whoop to me.

I think I'll explain my hug first.

Last year, I was on the Obama press bus in New Hampshire during the Democratic primary. We had stopped at Jack's Coffee Shop in New London, one of those quaint, picturesque New England towns so that Barack could do a photo op.

The joint was too small for all 40 or 50 of us in Obama's traveling media entourage. As usual, the campaign staff established the pecking order. TV and still cameras up front, radio and TV reporters next. I took up the rear with all the other print reporters.

I was freelancing for the Afro American News, one of the nation's oldest black newspapers. I was way, way in the back there. In fact, I was so far back that all I could really see was the backs of the other journalists' heads. I definitely couldn't see what would be going on when the candidate got off his lead bus in our three bus convoy to press the flesh with locals. I was so far back I was closer to the back door of the shop next door to Jack's, Vessels & Jewels, a quaint little gift shop brimming with arts and crafts, then I was to the inside of the coffee shop.

I ended up wandering into the gift shop, knowing I wouldn't be getting much of an opportunity to photograph Barack with my digital camera from where I stood. I hadn't been in Vessels & Jewels long enough to complete my speed-window shopping before the front-runner walked in. He'd made an unscheduled detour to the gift shop so that he could buy Malia and Sasha a little shiny something.

While the press corps were gently pushing and shoving each other for position as they waited for him next door, except for the shop clerks and a couple of Secret Service agents, I had the candidate all to myself. Obama asked me how I was doing and gave me a cordial handshake then went on to find a couple of jeweled bracelets for his daughters and a jeweled key ring for his wife. I clicked away with my small digital camera. By that time, a few of the TV and print photogs had spotted him and joined me on the shoot.

Obama paid the $36 tab with a debit card, and then headed over to Jack's. I was standing outside when I saw Michelle and her Secret Service agents coming my way.

"How're you doing," she said.

"Good," I said as she gave me the same kind of hug the Queen would get more than a year later.

I knew Michelle before I knew Barack. Back in 1993, when she was the Executive Director of Public Allies, and I was the host of Common Ground, a public affairs TV talk show, I'd agreed to address her group of young people who had been identified and were being developed as the next generation of leadership in Chicago. Back then, Michelle had greeted me warmly, but there was no hug. Instead, after I'd finished speaking, she gave me a black Public Allies sweat shirt that still hangs in my closet. She was then, and still is now, a down-to-earth, warm and friendly South Side Chicago woman who is the FLOTUS.

Now, to the Queen's hug.

You would not necessarily know from reading the British press that Michelle was just as big a deal as the Queen. The Daily Mail, for one, called the hug "an electrifying moment of palpable majesté: A breach of centuries-long protocol ..."

Other British reports followed suit, noting that protocol "has been set in stone for generations. 'Whatever you do,' courtiers are apt to warn, 'don't touch the queen.'"

The notion of the POTUS or the FLOTUS not touching the Queen is as quaint as the scenic little towns in New England. It's so... so last millennium. You know, back in the day when Great Britain had an empire and we were a colony trying to do our own thing or when our soldiers had to keep the German troopers from goose-stepping into 10 Downing Street and the Buckingham Palace.

Today, the Kingdom is not all that United and Britain is not all that Great. It's a used-to-be empire that -- save for the expense of it all -- is a nice place to visit to see the historic sites. But, in my proud-American-frame-of-mind, maybe there should be some etiquette rule that warns, "do not touch the FLOTUS."

But that's not Michelle's style or the American way. Even on the TV show, Entourage, Ari Gold, the super-jerk of an agent, likes to hug it out.


Cyber Columnist Monroe Anderson is an award-winning journalist who penned op-ed columns for both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. You can read his blog at http://www.monroeanderson.typepad.com/