Body Language in American Politics

Body language plays a big part in all communication. We can hardly say anything without expressing more through the movements of our faces and bodies. It’s no wonder, then, that body language has been displayed in American Politics.

When George Washington crossed the Delaware, according to the famous painting, he was showing a body language stance of confidence. He did this by standing erect with his hands on his hips. There is evidence of the same stance by Woodrow Wilson during a time when he was lecturing at a university and by Walter Mondale during his presidential campaign.

Many presidents and presidential hopefuls have shown body language signs of confidence and dominance. In the 1992 presidential debates, much of this was going on. Former President Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, and former President George Bush were all showing a palms down gesture that symbolized their belief in their superiority.

Another nonverbal cue of body language is a way you tilt your head back and hold it there. This has shown up in speeches by Mussolini, Roosevelt, George Wallace, and even Al Gore. It symbolizes a feeling of being disdainful, arrogant, and superior.

Sometimes, body language shows how uncomfortable a politician is. In 1988, former Vice President Dan Quayle was speaking in a televised debate. His opponent came out with a rather cutting remark, and Quayle’s response was an immediate “Adam’s apple jump.” This is a classic sign of nervousness.

The angle that you put yourself in relationship to others is a part of body language. Former President Richard Nixon was known for being uncomfortable around people. This was shown in the way he set himself at a ninety degree angle to others he was dealing with.

Much has been made of a 1988 Time magazine cover photo. It shows Jesse Jackson, who was making a run for president at the time. He is standing with his arms crossed in front of his chest. Some say this is a classic defensive pose. This may or may not be a correct interpretation of his body language.

A tense, pouting mouth can show uncertainty, frustration, and sadness. Photos were taken of former President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky ordeal. In them he is often displaying such a form of body language.

Former President Ronald Reagan and the Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev had important matters to discuss at summit. There were times when they didn’t agree. However, when they did agree, their body language showed it. At such times, they would face each other. They would also sit in similar postures.

A Republican pollster, R. Teeter, did an experiment about body language in politics. He showed people visual footage of politicians campaigning. They were doing their usual speech-making, hand shaking, and the rest. There was no sound, only video.

As it turned out, those who had only the body language of the candidates to read rated them the same way as those who knew their politics and views. It was shown that a lot is determined about choice of candidate by body language alone.

Body language has played a part in American politics and will continue to do so. As long as Americans can see who they’re voting for, they will watch as much as they will listen. Thanks to body language, leaders are easier to judge.