How do you think body language affects political climate and decision making?

Obama's first State of the Union: far-off gazes, hand gestures and a scene-stealing Joe Biden

The "Hope" gaze is back.

You remember: President Obama's trademark pose
during the campaign, that look he'd give during a pause in a speech,
staring off to the right and slightly up, like he was staring into the
future. Since he took office, it has been downgraded to more of a
glance, to a vague point just a few feet away. But at the State of the
Union address Wednesday, Obama "got up to the podium and he went way beyond" with that gaze, notes Karen Bradley, an associate professor of dance at the University of Maryland and an expert in body language.

And that, she says, is good news for the president.

We're suckers for good political body-language analysis, a specialty of Bradley and her George Mason counterpart Karen Studd. We previously conferred with the experts during the 2008 presidential race, watching the GOP contenders debate with the sound turned down -- dazzled by Mike Huckabee's confident gestures and animated face, put off by Mitt Romney's eyelash-batting vibe. Don't laugh: This is how a lot of voters subconsciously make their picks, they argue.

At the SOTU, they say, Obama was looser than usual. "Lately, his
elbows have been held close to his sides, very closed-in," said Bradley
-- a beaten-down, unhappy look. But heading into the big speech, "he
was spreading his arms, hugging people." His posture was more upright, his gestures more upbeat, with a "presentational" style like a college lecturer -- hand-chops to emphasize points. Bradley was stunned by the grin he occasionally flashed at the Republicans: "A 'gotcha' smile, and he was enjoying it."

See? So much going on while you were busy counting the number of
yellow or purple suits on congresswomen, or, later, trying to ID the
super-diverse lineup behind GOP speaker Gov. Bob McDonnell. (Among them: his Virginia Cabinet members Lisa Hicks-Thomas and Jim Cheng, an eighth-grader from Petersburg, and an Iraq veteran who served alongside McDonnell's daughter.) But back to the dais: Why was Joe Biden smiling so broadly behind the president? (And always applauding a second too soon.)

"In teaching theater, this is what we tell people not to do," sighed
Bradley. "Total upstaging. You couldn't help but notice him."

By The Reliable Source
 |January 29, 2010; 1:03 AM ET

Categories: Politics

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