Candidates as Characters

The first debate between the presidential candidates is over.  I watched it last night and heard nothing new from the information I had already read or heard about their positions.  However, as I listened, I began to think about politics in 2048, and what conditions led up to my choice of creating a future American dystopia.  Not much has changed. 

Then I began watching as if watching a scene playing out in a movie or play or one I’d been reading.  By stepping back to gain objectivity, as if I would need to describe the scene or answer questions about it on a test, I noticed immediately the difference between McCain’s and Obama’s demeanors, their body language.  This physical aspect supported what each was saying, I thought, but also revealed character.  Just like it would in a movie or novel.

 Obama moved around more, it seemed, acted relaxed, loose, open.  He turned his head and looked at McCain while McCain talked.  He addressed him directly, to engage him in a direct discussion.  He acknowledged McCain’s contributions and knowledge in a stance of openness, i.e. his arms were either at his side or were open as he held onto the podium. 

McCain moved little once he was standing behind his podium.  His body had the tension of anger in his stance.  He never turned his head to look at Obama.  He never addressed him directly but referred to him as if Obama wasn’t even there.  When he spoke of Obama, it was to emphasize his inexperience and “naivete.”  While he didn’t cross is arms (a closed stance), he focused on the moderator, his body turned slightly away from Obama.

One of the issues they discussed was whether or not to engage Iran in face-to-face talks.  Consistent with their body language, Obama was open to it, but McCain was not because he said it gave Iran’s leader legitimacy.  Huh.  I thought Iran’s president was elected, which usually means, in the past anyway, that he’s a legitimate leader (of course, the election’s legitimacy could be debated, I guess).  Obama commented that Iran’s president was not the most powerful leader in that country, an astute comment.  McCain just smiled.  I thought the smile was unreadable — knowing, encouraging, snide, condescending, patient, happy?  Who knows.

At any rate, during this Iran discussion, I suddenly realized that the way McCain was responding to Obama (an adversary) was probably the way he’d respond to anyone he didn’t like and with whom he disagreed, i.e. for example, the leader of Iran.  Hardly statesmanlike or diplomatic.  Presidents often must deal with the leaders of other countries they might not like or agree with, for example, France, and as statesmen, diplomatically.  The French are our allies and have been for years, but because they challenged Bush regarding invading Iraq, suddenly French fries became Freedom fries (and I never heard what a French kiss became).  Did Bush snub President Chirac at any of the G-8 meetings?  I don’t think so.   

In the Perceval novels, I occasionally wander into scenes with politicians.  I consider what I witnessed last night to be ninety-seven minutes of research….


8 responses to “Candidates as Characters

  1. Well, my impression of the debate last night is this–Obama looked like an elitist and McCain looked like a disgruntled old man. These two make media “evil witch” Hillary looks ten times better.

  2. I think you are right on McCain’s wide stance of anger.

    McCain was indeed transparently angry. I think it goes beyond the debate or even the campaign.

    John McCain suffered unimaginably in service to the rest of us. When his sacrifices are denigrated or ignored by those who never endured such treatment, his anger is understandable. I believe this instance is more revealing than the debate.

  3. Very perceptive! (Not surprising, considering the source.)

    I’ll be interested on reading your take on the VP debate. 😉

  4. Lauren, great to see you here! Thanks for the comment. Watching the debate last week has me thinking a lot about body language. Writers do use described body language to communicate something about a character but I rarely hear about it. So, I’ll be very interested to watch the VP debate and see what kind of body language is on stage….

  5. Interesting idea. I’m also interested in you take on the VP debate tonight. I’m trying to avoid seeing commentary from the media, until I can read/watch it myself. Which won’t be possible when I drive Jr. Gopher #1 to Kinderstube tomorrow morning.

    Afterall, they are certainly players on the stage of life. They’re doing this for our benefit, and playing to the expectations they think we have of them. Pretty fake, I suppose.

  6. The VP debate was interesting to watch, and I thought Palin did better than expected, but still showed that she’s not really qualified for the job. She did everything she could to project confidence and power — red heels, looking directly into the camera and talking to the audience rather than the moderator — but she betrayed her nervousness by licking her lips rather alot after awhile and her shoulders were moving up and down indicating her breathing had changed. She kept her stance open and straight, supportive of her “folksy” style. But I also felt there was a tinge of desperation there in her leaning forward at times, and it showed when she avoided answering certain questions.

    Biden, on the other hand, seemed relaxed and open in his stance. His confidence came through with being open, the way he looked at Palin, and I think he leaned on the podium a couple times as he listened. His hand gestures were more assertive than Palin’s — she barely used her hands at all. He was clearly used to this type of speaking. But he addressed the questioner/moderator rather than looking directly into the camera that often, which in this case, seemed to show some arrogance, perhaps?

    I felt Palin did as well as she could but she’s really in over her head….

  7. That was an interesting analysis as I also feel that body language says a lot. I never saw the debates as I have the cynical idea that there’s no substantial diff between the Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke candidate, but then I’m into the third-party movement myself. However, your insightful description gave me a good mental image of the basic personality types of the candidates. Their speech may be the usual unsubstantial palaver candidates always use during the debates, but you gave it an interesting subtext that reveals their basic personalities which is ultimately more important.

  8. Very insightful observation into the two candidates’ personalities. I think body language often tells more about a candidate than their words, and your essay really gets to the core of their potential leadership styles.

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