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What Mitt Romney’s Body Language Is Trying to Tell Us

Lots of people have talked about how Mitt Romney comes off like a robot.
 
 
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Lots of people have talked about how Mitt Romney comes off like a robot. Some, like Chris Matthews, home in on Mitt’s odd way with words (“The trees are the right height”), suggesting that Mitt has yet to master an Earth-based language. Others focus on finding the right metaphor: Is Mitt a “wimp” and a “weenie,” as Mike Tomasky writes in Newsweek, or is he instead a “weasel,” as Chris Weigant maintains in Huff Post?

There’s some truth to each of these approaches to the mystery that is Mitt. But I think Dan Aykroyd got closest to the essence of it when he suggested that we follow the body language: Mitt has “a funny walk,” Aykroyd said. “He wears a girdle, I think.”

This seemed almost literally true during a photo op in Israel earlier this week, as the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States stood next to the relaxed and voluble Benjamin Netanyahu like an animatronic prop.

OK, ignore if you can the two men’s hilariously prolonged handshake at the beginning of the clip (I assume it went into extra innings for the cameras), and instead check out Mitt’s arms: they’re held stiffly at his sides, hands below the belt; no gestures for him and no self-assertion at all. Maybe the problem was that, even though Romney was trying to talk “tough” about Iran, his body knew that simply parroting whatever Bibi (and Sheldon Adelson) want him to say is anything but tough. So his body tried to shout, “Weak!” Just look at the symbolism of the old chums’ relative body language: Bibi grabs the mic, Bibi grabs Mitt’s hand for the shake; Romney, meanwhile, is all deference and obedient schoolboy, and about as commanding as one.

Is this the sign of a “wimp”? Or of growing up with Mormon modesty? I dunno. But in public, an awkward and passive posture is Romney’s most customary stance. Not only does he have no physical swagger, but he seems to recoil from the very space a swagger might propel him into.


REUTERS/Scott Audette


REUTERS/Rick Wilking


(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

His gait, too, is held back. Often his arms and legs don’t swing fully; they seem to halt an inch or two before their full expression, almost apologetically, almost like the walk is walking itself back, much as he frequently does with his “gaffes.”

Here’s Mitt walking that walk, as he avoids the press at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw this week (as an aide tells reporters asking questions, “Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect!”):

Actually, let’s give the guy credit for not walking with the false swagger of, say, George W. Bush. A physically aggressive posture does not a courageous man make. (For that matter, let’s give him credit for daring to let Ann drive the jet ski.) But in Romney’s case, a physically passive posture may reveal instead a false humility.

Romney’s whole face, in fact, often looks oddly passive and humble. Like his limbs, his facial expressions also hold back; instead of jutting forward, his energy seems to go concave. This is especially apparent when he gazes at others. “Mitt Romney loves to look longingly at other politicians,” Karna writes in Buzzfeed, with plenty of photos that can certainly be interpreted that way, like these:


(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)


REUTERS/Mark Makela

This signature Romney pose—eyes softened, mouth closed, sometimes in a Mona Lisa smile, stomach slightly out, shoulders slightly slumped—has always struck me as a benevolent, kindly look. If he’s looking on as other people speak, it seems he’s doing so in admiration, perhaps like a proud pastor letting his flock speak from the pulpit. That would jibe with what Maureen Dowd refers to as “Romney’s image of himself as wise, caring, smart and capable.”