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September 6, 2004

Political Psychology: Hail to the Stiff

kerrystewart

On the subject of Jon Stewart, he really did a great job with John Kerry a week and a half ago. People fault Kerry for being stiff, and he is. That said, he’s still far healthier psychologically than Bush.

When you take a closer look at both candidates, Bush is every bit as rigid as Kerry, but in a more pathological way. As you can see in this interview, when Kerry relaxes, he can be quite personable, even playful. Bush, on the other hand, could never joke around like this on television. He’s much too anxious, too controlled.

If my comparison generates disagreement, it’s because people look at Bush and perceive confidence in behaviors that actually compensate for his lack of confidence. Contrary to what Bush insists, that “swagger” is not just walking. Instead, its an example of the way Bush is constantly having to puff himself up and rush about. The reason the President’s acceptance speech found reason to call out his walk and his edgy demeanor is because of how affected and potentially revealing these behaviors are. In fact, they are symptomatic of someone who is that awkward, touchy and self-conscious.

The other reason people would challenge Bush as “rigid” is because Bush is not inherently tight. Among family and friends, for example, he is known to be remarkably glib and quick witted. He also wasn’t particularly bumbling or inarticulate as a governor or as a business man. Bush, however, is psychologically lightweight. That means he has trouble identifying with the degree of substance or respect others offer to him. It means that, to the extent he is bright or knowledgeable, he has trouble owning those capacities — especially in situations where he is required to take himself more seriously. So, Bush is not a stiff guy, or a stupid guy or a necessarily inarticulate guy — until he is. Until he comes in touch with his lack of weightiness or gravity. Such as, when he has to think and act like the leader of the free world.

By now, most everyone has noticed how, in the middle of what he’s doing, Bush’s eyes will suddenly dart to one side. Or, for no reason, he’ll become mystified and start to stumble. Or, he’ll stop in mid-sentence and suddenly cock his head upward slightly, as if straining to hear some inner voice. Because I don’t know Bush personally, I can’t say specifically how his perceived lack of substance plays out in his head (Chronic nerves? Everpresent feelings that he’s being judged or second guessed? More rehearsing than processing of ideas?). Nonetheless, the outward manifestation can be plainly seen in these gestures and speech acts in those (self-)limited instances when he has to stand alone and think on his feet.

As someone so vulnerable to this exposure, it is no wonder Bush makes himself so unavailable — and is so continuously on the move.

The Jon Stewart – John Kerry Interview in Quicktime Low Bandwidth 13 MB

(source: lisa rein)

  • UncleSam

    I liked this story alot. I’ve been trying to come up with approaches John Kerry should use to thwart that. I’m drawing on my experience from standing up to bullies.
    Generally, a known bully can be ‘punked’ out by initiating the physical confrontation. Maintaining this without actually elevating to violence, or even contact, is where the skill lies.
    The bully will almost always return fire, the trick there is to anticipate that and interrupt, rudely even, and then gointo a diatribe alluding to a flaw in the bully while suggesting everyon around him/her sees this.
    If John can do this, and then maintain a fatherly, insistent firmness, he can dictate psychologically that he is in control of the conversation, and of the subtleties.
    When a bully sees no physical escape, and even tastes fear – clarifying thew sublties by alluding to them is very effective. It will make them stutter and waste time pondering the whole thing. They’ll feel under a microscope, and they will begin to deteriorate.
    Stand back, byt not too far. The bully will fail by his/her own hand.

  • http://www.petergasston.co.uk Cheeks

    The leading article in todays Independent Review comments on Bush’s walk; “At the time of writing, the abject sycophancy of the British Prime Minister to the US President has earned him the title ‘Bush’s Poodle’. Several commentators have noticed that, especially when he’s in his company, he imitates Bush’s macho ‘cowboy swagger’, with arms held out to the sides as though ready to reach for his two pistols.”

  • gubbaboy

    Does the above comment pass as reasoned arguement on this site?How sad.Just because you say something, it doesn’t make it true.Perhaps that is why Bush is pulling away from your boy, you lefties are stuck repeating some inane mantra of Bush’s (insert-dumb,bad etc etc)and it aint ringing true to the heartland.Anyway enjoy giving yourselves a mental blow job and remember register to vote.

  • Scott

    The writer of this article, is a trained psychologist? I doubt it, I am.
    Seems to me it is all just first year psych class evaluations. No substance and not very good to boot.
    Bush may not be a polished public speaker, but he is a very effective leader and lets face it Kerry is not. The Democrats are constantly trying to bring something out against Bush that would hurt his campaign but alwyas resort to these…..his walk, and what he might be thinking, he is less intelligent etc. If that is the best the Kerry brain trust can come up with it is no wonder life long Democrats like myself are leaning to Bush.

  • tom

    Or perhaps it’s all the alcohol and who-knows-what else Bush consumed in his youth that’s permanently damaged his brain. Talk to any long time drug user, people’s personalities tend to pause at the maturity level they were at when they started using drugs. Bush has the demeanor and mannerisms of a child. This is not to say children are less intelligent than adults, but would you want a drunk 14 year old running the country?

  • http://stephensimon.net Stephen

    Oh gubbaboy, you make me sad. “I doubt it, I am. Seems to me it is all just first year psych class evaluations. No substance and not very good to boot.”
    Childish at best. Talk about lack of substance. I expected you to end by saying, “And besides that you dress funny, so nah!”

  • mick

    i’m not a shrink, but i have been looking at bush in these terms for years: an insecure man who is really overcompensating. i guess you can agree or disagree.
    i am a recovering drunk, took my last drink in 1986 (same as bush, come to think of it). my recovering alky friends and myself have several times discussed bush in terms of someone on a “dry drunk”. we tend to agree, he has the syndrome. black and white thinking, grandiosity, some temper, a touch of egomania,stubborness, inability to admit fault. it’s all there. tom is right, a drunk’s maturity tends to be arrested at the age we start boozing. but, with spiritual tools, you grow again when you stop the drinking. something you may not know about the secret ex-drunk society: most of us have a real problem with religion-we don’t like it. not all of us feel that way, but it is a VERY common theme in AA. and bush is SO religious!
    i like to watch body language. during the larry king interview, bush was talking about something and used the term “this country must [something or another-irrelevant]“. when he said “this country” he placed both hands on his chest. interesting.
    i’m just an ex-drunk, not a shrink, but i wouldn’t mind playing poker with the president. i believe i could clean up.
    yeah, i won’t forget to vote, scott. thanks for the reminder. maybe you should consider changing parties. i’m not telling you what to do, but bush is way outside repub mainstream, let alone democratic big tent.

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