O, the anonymous novel about the Obama administration, might be the talk of Washington, but Primary Colors, Joe Klein’s 1996 satire, boasts perhaps the finest paragraph ever about a President’s schmoozing: “We shook hands,” recalls Henry Burton, a campaigner for a Bill Clinton–like governor with his eye on the White House. “My inability to recall that particular moment more precisely is disappointing: the handshake is the threshold act, the beginning of politics. I’ve seen him do it two million times now, but I couldn’t tell you how he does it, the right-handed part of it—the strength, quality, duration of it, the rudiments of pressing the flesh. I can, however, tell you a whole lot about what he does with his other hand. He is a genius with it. He might put it on your elbow, or up by your biceps: these are basic, reflexive moves. He is interested in you. He is honored to meet you. If he gets any higher up your shoulder—if he, say, drapes his left arm over your back, it is somehow less intimate, more casual. He’ll share a laugh or a secret then—a light secret, not a real one—flattering you with the illusion of conspiracy. If he doesn’t know you all that well and you’ve just told him something ‘important,’ something earnest or emotional, he will lock in and honor you with a two-hander, his left hand overwhelming your wrist and forearm. He’ll flash that famous misty look of his. And he will mean it.”
This review first appeared in the February 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.