President Obama arrives in Chicago. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)
It would be a lot more fun if political debate planners took a page from championship boxing. President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney could take the stage to the “Rocky” theme, with handlers holding prize belts over their heads. Then there would be a stare down at center stage, while moderator Jim Lehrer read the final instructions. “No interruptions. Watch my signals. Gentleman, come out equivocating!”
Since we can’t expect that stagecraft from the Commission on Presidential Debates for Wednesday night’s Obama-Romney smack down, we are left with this to measure the candidates as they arrive—the way they walk.
President Obama and Mitt Romney have distinct ways of taking a stage. And, yes, critics have dissected the way the two put one foot in front of another. It probably doesn’t matter one iota, unless it does. So here’s the skinny:
The president’s gait reveals him to be a poseur, according to a rather interested party—Romney surrogate John Sununu. In a Q and A in Sunday’s New York Times magazine, Sununu explained his previous statement (actually a double insult!) in which the former White House chief of staff to George H.W. Bush said that Obama’s phony almost-Southern accent was as “phony as his jaunt when he runs up and down Marine One.”
PHOTOS: Obama on the campaign trail
Asked to define “phony jaunt,” Sununu explained: “Every time you see him climbing up or down stairs, he elevates his arms and does this pumping, trying to look like a well-trained and trim dynamic individual. It’s something he does all the time, particularly when he’s climbing up to a podium to speak or address a crowd. This president understands that he got elected on the basis of style and not substance, and I think he’s trying to preserve style.”
That’s loading a lot of meaning on a few paces up and down a flight of stairs, but Sununu may have found a kernel of truth. Obama does have the loosey-goosey, hands-in-front thing happening when he bounds up or down stairs. It seems self-conscious, seemingly designed to say: “I’m loose. I’m ready.”
Romney’s considerably stiffer stride has been the subject of chatter as well. The candidate released a glowing report from his doctor last month, testifying to cardiovascular health that is the result of regular workouts. So what’s with the short, choppy little steps?
Someone who has spent time with the candidate blames his tiny stride on plantar fasciitis—an inflammation of tissue on the bottom of the foot—aggravated by years of running. Regardless of the cause, there seems little doubt—Romney has trouble really stepping out.
PHOTOS: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail
The Nation devoted an essay in August to the Republican’s somewhat reticent physical presence. “Not only does he have no physical swagger,” wrote Leslie Savan, “but he seems to recoil from the very space a swagger might propel him into.”
Captured on video in the spring, confirmed liberal Dan Aykroyd had his own theory about the “funny walk” of Romney: “He wears a girdle, I think.”
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