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Obama's first State of the Union: far-off gazes, hand gestures and a scene-stealing Joe Biden


President Obama delivers his State of the Union address Wednesday night while Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. (Reuters/Molly Riley)

The "Hope" gaze is back.

You remember: President Obama's trademark pose during the campaign, that look he'd give during a pause in a speech, staring off to the right and slightly up, like he was staring into the future. Since he took office, it has been downgraded to more of a glance, to a vague point just a few feet away. But at the State of the Union address Wednesday, Obama "got up to the podium and he went way beyond" with that gaze, notes Karen Bradley, an associate professor of dance at the University of Maryland and an expert in body language.

And that, she says, is good news for the president.

We're suckers for good political body-language analysis, a specialty of Bradley and her George Mason counterpart Karen Studd. We previously conferred with the experts during the 2008 presidential race, watching the GOP contenders debate with the sound turned down -- dazzled by Mike Huckabee's confident gestures and animated face, put off by Mitt Romney's eyelash-batting vibe. Don't laugh: This is how a lot of voters subconsciously make their picks, they argue.

At the SOTU, they say, Obama was looser than usual. "Lately, his elbows have been held close to his sides, very closed-in," said Bradley -- a beaten-down, unhappy look. But heading into the big speech, "he was spreading his arms, hugging people." His posture was more upright, his gestures more upbeat, with a "presentational" style like a college lecturer -- hand-chops to emphasize points. Bradley was stunned by the grin he occasionally flashed at the Republicans: "A 'gotcha' smile, and he was enjoying it."

See? So much going on while you were busy counting the number of yellow or purple suits on congresswomen, or, later, trying to ID the super-diverse lineup behind GOP speaker Gov. Bob McDonnell. (Among them: his Virginia Cabinet members Lisa Hicks-Thomas and Jim Cheng, an eighth-grader from Petersburg, and an Iraq veteran who served alongside McDonnell's daughter.) But back to the dais: Why was Joe Biden smiling so broadly behind the president? (And always applauding a second too soon.)

"In teaching theater, this is what we tell people not to do," sighed Bradley. "Total upstaging. You couldn't help but notice him."

By The Reliable Source  |  January 29, 2010; 1:03 AM ET
Categories:  Politics  
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Comments

Let Joe be Joe!

True story: I vaguely recall hearing back in the 80s about a study someone did showing a muted Ronald Reagan speech to severely mentally handicapped adults at a French long-term care facility.

Apparently the viewers alternated between laughing hysterically and getting angry at the tv & yelling: He's lying.

I forget the details.

Posted by: dadada | January 29, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

At the SOTUS Joe Biden looked like one of those car dash board figurines with the neck always nodding up and down. We should forever call him Bobble Man

Posted by: jasonfelton1 | January 30, 2010 3:05 AM | Report abuse

That gaze is trying to decide which teleprompter to use.
Joe Biden is second in line to run the country??scary He knew what was in the speech and just like a little kid he wanted to show his master that he done good.

Posted by: captgrumpy | January 31, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

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