Denver Bar Association
April 2008
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POLITICAL GESTURES

by Dennis Walker

Lawyers read body language. While questioning a witness, selecting a jury, conducting negotiations, or working through a transaction, lawyers recognize key visual signals. Seeing is sometimes believing, even when you don’t hear the magic words. On the campaign trail, our candidates are vying for face-time. Selecting the next President can depend on knowing the gestures.

To serve the members of the Bar, we present our voter’s guide to political gestures:

1. The "finger point" connection with an audience member — the politician smiles, wanders away from the podium, points his finger, and appears to lock eyes with a friendly face among his supporters. His grin widens, and everyone is assured that these are his people. Meanwhile, if a camera scanned the throng, it would fail to locate an individual who knows that the candidate has pointed him out. Hasn’t Jay Leno nightly demonstrated the absurdity of attempting forced connections with an audience?

2. The celebration smile — poll numbers are announced, interim campaign funds are tallied, or an opponent withdraws and the candidate’s smile radiates all the joy of a parent announcing the birth of a child. After coming in third in the Iowa caucus, Hillary Clinton excitedly uttered, "I am so ready for the rest of the campaign; I am so ready to lead." The candidate’s smile proclaims "we are winning," yet voters wonder who is included in the victory.

3. Strapping on a musical instrument — Mike Huckabee got face-time playing bass to Kevin Eubanks’s lead guitar on the Tonight Show. Bill Clinton played his sax solo for David Letterman. Does a gesture saying, "I can get down with the rest of you" mask a runaway ambition?

4. The photo op with religious notables — we saw John McCain on TV alongside a preacher he blasted not long before. It’s a fine line, acting as a person of faith but keeping "religion out of politics." We are sorry, but any guidance would not be politically correct in this area.

5. Stand in front of the flag — every politician does this. They compete for the grandest backdrops or the number of pennants on camera. Would it be suicide to wear a green tie during the campaign? Guide: gauge patriotism in inverse proportion to the number of flags surrounding the candidate.

6. Appear at the scene of a tragedy — few candidates pass up the opportunity to be seen at ground zero, in the vicinity of a recent shooting rampage, or at the funeral of a popular figure. We can assume sympathy, but maybe it is doubtful that we can expect valuable protection.

7. Smiling during a fight — during typical screaming matches on TV, many broadcasts provide split images, allowing us to witness insults and accusations yet all the while an opponent exhibits unrestrained glee. This reveals: (a) determined advocacy; (b) courage under fire; (c) diplomatic equanimity; or (d) the mania of a candidate who will do anything to get your approval.


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