Saturday, September 27, 2008

Body Language and Politics

When I watched the McCain-Obama debate last night, I wasn't so much interested in what they had to say, but rather how they said it. I was wondering who would be the dominant male. What struck me most was McCain's awkwardness, a stiffness in the way he postured towards Obama. It seemed as if McCain was going out of his way to avoid looking Obama in the eyes. The full significance of this never hit me, but Franz de Waal saw it clearly. Blogging at the Huffington Post, de Waal writes,

"I read the body language between McCain and Obama as that between a senior male being challenged by a remarkably confident junior one. The senior didn't know exactly what to do. He avoided eye contact and body orientation, probably realizing that a direct confrontation might not go his way.

If McCain was an alpha male, it was an incredibly insecure one."


  1. very interesting observation indeed. . . I agree, although I couldn't have put my finger on it at the time.

  2. It's really cool that you have a strong political preference.

    But do you think that McCain's awkwardness might have been due to five years of torture in a prison camp in Vietnam? Which has nothing to do with his governing ability or lack thereof, incidentally.

    I think that scientists need to be VERY careful about their politics---especially when they mix the two areas. I remember the Nuclear Winter controversy, for example.

    I don't expect you to agree, but I was struck by the tone of this post. Partisanship---on both sides---is the enemy of reason.

  3. Re: Stiffness
    Yes McCain's torture was my first thought when I considered his "stiffness". However, that is no explanation for not meeting Obama in the eye.

    I'm mostly apolitical here in this blog, but I think there is a time when one needs to take sides. I think the previous several posts make clear that I think Obama is the better candidate with respect to Science. McCain's choosing Palin as VP candidate demonstrated that he does not consider Science an important issue.

  4. See, that's the problem. Saying that you don't care for Senator McCain's science policy is fair minded and rational. But the "not making eye contact" and the ""incredibly insecure" business (though you did not write the latter) are more examples of our sadly toxic partisan culture.

    There are many people I know---intelligent, successful people---who think that Senator Obama's constant ums and ahs and malaprops (57 states, etc) without a TelePrompter mean that he is an airhead and empty suit.

    Not true, just like some of the telepathy being displayed about Senator McCain's motivations.

    But we have had nearly 8 years of being told how mis-speaking is a sign of stupidity. Except when it is a candidate a person likes. "D" versus "R" trumps all.

    I appreciate your comments about science policy, and you certainly have a right to your political opinions, this being your blog. But partisanship is part of the problem in our country. And I hope that we can all rise above it after November, no matter how it goes.

    No politician is your friend, period. And none of them truly care about science, trust me. They care about getting elected. Both sides of the aisle count on the nastiness and polarization and name calling. Again, both sides.

    Anyway, great blog and best of luck to you.