What's wrong with this picture? Maybe nothing, but there's definitely something unusual about it. Not quite abnormal, but unquestionably deviating from the norm.
What's the picture under discussion? It's an image of Barack Obama signing an autograph for an onlooker at a Martha's Vineyard golf game. The President is wearing a short-sleeved white shirt and khaki trousers--very golf proper--and a smile. The autograph recipient is one of four spectators identified as part of a retiree's outing. The grinning seniors are holding cell phones or BlackBerrys or whatever on which they're likely just about to text, "You'll never guess who we just bumped into...."
So far, so usual. But look closer. Obama is signing with his left hand, but that's not really the stop-the-Tweeting news. Obama's left-handedness has been recorded in myriad places over the last couple of years, and much has been said about it--including his place as the fifth-left handed President in recent years. (Preceding southpaws are Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George G. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and, not long before that Harry S. Truman and not that much longer before him, Herbert Hoover.)
But wait. What's that I see on Obama's left wrist? Why, it's his wrist watch. And there's the rub. Left-handed people typically wear their watches on their right wrist, just as right-handed people wear their watches on the left wrist.
What does this tell us -- or at least imply? It tells us Obama is either one in a thousand, perhaps, who do this odd left-handed-left-wrist-watched thing, or it tells us he thinks of himself, or wants to think of himself, as right-handed. And I'm here to inform you that a certain number of column inches have been devoted to this trait as well -- although I've yet to find any specific reference to the President's writes-with-left-hand-wears-watch-on-left-wrist trait.
It's even been reported that our President executes certain tasks with his right hand. The Washington Post informed us over a year ago that then-candidate Obama eats pizza and sandwiches as a righty. But those are finger foods and not compelling for our analysis. Besides, Obama remains a lefty when knives, forks and spoons are involved.
Nonetheless, I can't stop wondering whether President Obama's ambidextrous tendencies somehow indicate ambivalent tendencies. And I bet I'm not alone in this. Am I the only one tempted to read into quirks like this, even as I'm aware that reading into it may be all it is.
As the President's first 200 days stretch toward 300 and political issues such as health care reform veer ever deeper into turbulent waters, I'm thinking maybe a person's not being firmly left-handed or right-handed means that as the metaphorical ball comes at him, he waits too long to decide which hand will catch it and instead lets the ball drop.
Of course, the flip side of ambivalence can be flexibility. Stephen Christman, a University of Toledo professor of behavioral psychology, told Washington Post reporter Melissa Roth that from his stand-point "mixed-handers are better able to see both sides of the story." And that's, of course, what I -- and you? -- want to believe about our current leader.
Christman did go on to say, "If you want change, you might be better with a mixed-handed candidate." No one is likely to have forgotten that change is what Obama was selling, what to millions of voters he represented when they went to the polls in droves last November. At the moment, however, with any improvement to the health care situation threatening to founder, change may not be what he's got in store for believers.
Full-disclosure: I'm left-handed. And I know that like many other left-handed people in a generally right-handed world I'm sensitive about it. I've been particularly sensitive about it ever since seventh grade when a metal-shop teacher looked over some work I was doing and said, "I don't know how you left-handed monkeys get along."
So, yes, I'm defensive about the left-handed state of being and want other lefties to be the same. Okay, I did not celebrate International Left-Handed Day this past August 13, but that doesn't disqualify me from membership in the club. I want commitment to the left-handed cause, and this may underlie my concerns about Obama and his seeming left-hand-right-hand vicissitudes.
Call me nuts, but I suspect the convictions that seem somewhat wobbly now that he's attained the nation's highest office would immediately strengthen if he looked his two hands over and committed once and for all to the left one. I just can't stop thinking that favoring his left hand would lean him in that direction in more ways than one.