An Examination of the Body Language of Mitt Romney

Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro at the New York Times have a cool article about the way that the the Romney campaign packages the candidate in rallies. What struck me as most interesting was their focus on the body language of Mitt Romney.

Check out this image. Note that only one of these people looks like a human being — scientifically proven non-human Michele Bachmann (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Most Americans have only seen Mitt Romney speak in soundbites or GOP debates. The former gives us little material to understand Romney’s speaking style, while the latter highlighted an awkward, wooden image. I know James Fallows thought this looked “confident” but I disagree. As do, according to Parker and Barbaro, several members of the Romney staff.

When Mr. Romney pauses on the stage or at the lectern, he stands ramrod straight, chest out, arms fully extended downward at his side, tilting slightly forward — a habit, projecting stiffness and formality, that his aides find a bit off-putting.

But what’s interesting about the article is that Parker and Barbaro have personally attended several Romney rallies and seen the whole picture that is reduced to soundbites for the rest of us. And what they see is a candidate who is not wooden, but eagerly gesticulating.

If Mr. Romney is the leading man in his quest for the White House, his hands are best supporting actors.

He uses them, high school teacher style, to count each of the five points of his economic plan. He uses them to emphasize a comment shouted from the crowd, offering a thumbs up or a pumped fist. His hands become restless tools of emphasis, plunging down as he talks about lowering taxes and surging up as he assails the president for higher deficits.

If this is true, it makes the decision to put Romney in front of a white board even more puzzling. Look at this:

This locks up one of his hands with a marker (given that he uses a handheld mic this means BOTH hands are taken out of the game). It keeps him looking away from the cameras for most of his prepared remarks. It introduces a prop that is intended to distract attention from the candidate. A human, natural Romney is lost in the mix. Maybe they feel that looking human is less important than looking like a business consultant on a pitch with whiteboards and slick powerpoint presentations. I’m not sure that’s a smart move because you use those visual aids when you are selling the program, but in an election you’re trying to sell the candidate. Also, charts can become the enemy of effective communication.

Once again, it’s almost as though the campaign can’t figure out what they want their candidate to be. Not exactly the ideal place to be 2 months before an election.

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