Video: What's with all that hand-jive?

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Josh Mankiewicz Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/7/2006 7:03:20 PM ET 2006-11-08T00:03:20

America's politicians are all thumbs.

Inside politics, there is something called "The Clinton Thumb."

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America," said the former president at his 1993 inaugural, closing his hand but not quite clenching his fist.

The thumb lies flat on top of his fingers. The motion is like knocking on a door. No Clinton imitation is complete without it.

"It could be a period [or an] exclamation point," says comedian Darrell Hammond, who portrays Clinton on NBC's 'Saturday Night Live.' "It can be, 'Hey, how are ya?' And it can be, onward and upward."

But now everyone's doing it: Republicans, other Democrats, even other Clintons, although Sen. Hillary Clinton's needs a little work.

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right about America," says Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., on the campaign trail.

And in a true hands-across-the-sea gesture, we even found "The Clinton Thumb" in parliament, by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Why does it work? It's not angry like a clenched fist. It's not accusing someone of something, because pointing is rude. It is optimistic and confident, and my fellow Americans, you can't argue with history.

"Politicians now like to emulate success," says Republican political consultant Roger Stone. "After Nixon did this (makes V-for-victory sign), then he was impeached, nobody did that anymore. But this (does thumb) worked for Clinton, and that's why you see every politician doing it."

Stone says that in the politics of today, nothing's left to chance, including a candidate's gestures.

"I think these guys are looking for any edge, any advantage to communicate their character," he says. "The gesture says something about them that the word sometimes can't say."

Presidential mannerisms are legend. Ronald Reagan did that head-bob that meant a good one-liner was on the way. Bush likes to point at friends in the crowd. And while the Clinton thumb may have its roots in JFK's Camelot, its branches now cover the political landscape.

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