Smirking, laughing and posturing as the other person is talking. Pretty rude, immature and disrespectful, right? Well, that’s debatable.
In a normal conversation, of course, it would be despicable. However, during a political debate another slant could give this behavior a new perspective.
Let’s ask ourselves, ‘What are debates intended to accomplish?’ Obviously, to convey information and impressions in order to help voters decide on their choice. Well, more sophisticated viewers understand that the obvious intent is simply not the real one, at least not from the politicians’ viewpoint.
Their participation in political debates is a big part of their public relations/marketing campaign to win voters. Stating the obvious, they’re there to get votes, not to make friends. They wish to convey the impressions they believe their followers would appreciate and to attract new followers, and body language is powerful.
So, when we see Governor Romney smirking throughout President Obama’s replies, or Vice-President Biden laughing during Congressman Ryan’s replies, these candidates are using non-verbal communication to reinforce their positions, diluting the opposing person’s answers. For the politicians laughing, smirking or shaking their heads, of course, the behavior is a natural reaction to the opponent’s words; but it’s really much more than that. It’s non-verbal communication that they dispute the speaker’s response.
It’s also an attention-getter. The camera locks onto them; viewers are thinking either, ‘Right on, Biden!’ or ‘Isn’t that rude and disgusting!’ Either way, they’re not listening to the opponent’s replies. Body language is a powerful component of participation in political debates.
That’s it for the politicians. For commentators, it’s a different story. , last Wednesday when the moderators showed a clip of Congressman Ryan replying to Moderator Raddatz’ pressing him for specifics on his tax plan, I laughed when he started giving statistics from past Presidents rather than addressing his own plan.
Yes, I laughed at the absurdity of his continual failure to give specifics. And I was wrong to do so. I should have waited quietly for the clip to end before responding. Had I been watching it at home with friends, probably we all would have hooted at the response. But I wasn’t. I was on a public forum, so it was disrespectful.
And that’s the story of body language -- it’s all in the time and the place. So, when we watch the remaining debates, let’s keep the body language where it belongs -- in the background of our thoughts. It’s the words they speak that count as we evaluate the veracity and consistency of their positions.