Being critical of a President is an easy thing to do, and especially when times are hard. In an interview with President Obama for 60 Minutes, at a point correspondent Steve Kroft asked the President; “Are you punch drunk?” The uncomfortable moment came on the heels of Obama having laughed during and otherwise informative, serious and important discourse. For the most part the media has taken the view that Obama either made a stupid mistake, or that he is not serious about the economic situation.
Everyone is jumping on the wrong parts of this incident (the interview), and with the wrong intentions. The Washington Post article, which actually drew our attention to the news, even had PR professionals shooting from the hip on the issue, obviously with different takes. We thought we should approach the issue with something more than just opinion, so we asked our body language expert to evaluate the interview frame-by frame and question to question to gain more insight into the President’s intentions.
We have criticized The President on a number of issues these last months. Much of this criticism however, has not been directed at Obama, but at the American people’s expectations of the man. Is trying to micro-manage an executive on any level a smart thing to do? We hammer Obama and other officials at every turn, when the media shows a good deal less regard for the gravity of this economic situation. The time for bipartisan politics is not now, and if this ship fails to reach port there will be plenty of news but not many places to broadcast is from. My opinion of Obama has actually been elevated from one of guarded admiration to hopeful appreciation for the man’s grasp of the issues.
Here are some key parts of this interview that should have overshadowed anything but an epileptic seizure by the President.
- Wall Street – Obama correctly and democratically directed the blame for much of the economic upheaval we are under. He accurately demonstrated a feel for the pulse of the average American in talking about the disparity between a worker in Iowa or Arkansas and Wall Street’s “best of the best”. If anyone out there ever read about the French Revolution (or any revolution for that matter) the phrase “let them eat cake” should ring a bell. People undergoing hard times “because” of wealthy people do not want to hear of their good fortune via bonuses essentially paid for failure. This is common sense, and what we should be taking from this interview. Obama clearly knows the difference between “who runs the show and who makes the show run”.
- The People’s Money – Obama has a unique grasp of common logic and both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. People may have a skewed view of value, but no one (banks or taxpayers) wants to pay more than they have to. The problem for the taxpayer in this economic situation is that they paid for a bill of goods (Bush administration and speculative Wall Street) that failed them miserably. The problem for Obama of late has been the AIG debacle. He handled this superbly when asked if the legislation to tax these bonuses was correct. Using taxes to punish success is a terrible idea, a stifling one. Obama’s “legal means” redemption plan for the AIG bonuses is a much more feasible measure. It accomplishes the same thing, rectifying impropriety (though not fully), while allowing entrepreneurship to operate freely. Law is the only democratic vehicle for punishment in this instance. The revenue service operates under the law not above it.
- The Tough Answers – The President has a much more refined view of the situation than even I believed initially. The crux of this matter resides in both his demeanor and in the fact that he so often alludes to where the answers reside – with the people. He makes the statement that banks want tax money for free and that taxpayers don’t want to pay anything. He goes on to further qualify this by pointing out the many things the many people want, and how difficult it is to align strategies because of the disparate “needs” or desires (which is what he really means). Ma feeling is that the man is about a blink of an eye from just coming out and saying; “We are going have to settle for less and pay more to get out of this, all of us.” I would not be surprised to read he has already said this somewhere.
The Body Language of Truth
As mentioned, we had our body language expert go over this interview with a fine tooth comb. Taken out of context even, the President’s laughter was not even directed at the target all the media is suggesting – workers. These nervous or enlivened moments are in direct response to the subjects of businesses and their needed strategies for recovery.
On Uproar Over AIG Bonuses:
Shy, yet proud and powerful, this is how the US President appears to our body language expert.
The President is led initially into the interview with an inconvenient question (reaction to the AIG bonus news). This is the only case in which the President’s body language sends us messages that do not support his words. The president lowers his eyes to the left on several occasions, searching for the right words:
When he looks at his interlocutor, his eyes move from side to side, as if the President is trying to find a way to escape, if not hiding the truth. The President obviously did not expect this AIG issue to be blown so far out of proportion.
On Law Versus Taxation:
Another example, for instance when the President knows his answers (like when answering whether the AIG bonuses legislation is fair), his eyes gaze straight into the eyes of his interlocutor, his head rises with an air of superiority, the valid points are clearly underlined with a slight head shake from up to down, nodding (like when saying “yes” to oneself more than once with wise understanding, yet somehow knowing that the answers are not all that comfortable for other parties involved)
On Passing The Buck:
Questioned about Tim Geithner, the President gives an answer we estimate to be true, supported by his already famous head tilt to the right that emphasizes the “guilt” feelings he declares when stating: “And I take responsibility for not, I think, having given him as much help as he needs.”
However, the eyes of the President look down during this statement, which may lead to the conclusion that the President was “covering” Geithner by assuming a blame he didn’t have.
Banking On Banks:
As far as the banking crisis, the President is definitely being transparent and speaks the truth. He believes helping banks is the right course, and emphasizes they are key to the success of the bailout. The body language, also exaggerated (too many motions with the hands, too much nodding) cannot hide the messages sent by the eyes, which is pure sincerity. He is being extremely transparent here.
On Unexpected Unpleasantness:
The President is again in a very uncomfortable situation when asked if he was surprised at the depth of the recession when he took office. The President stutters, his head nodding, tilting and the eyes movements follow in a chaotic sequence. His eyebrows rise in surprise when he talks about the employment slope, which is “a lot steeper than anything that we’ve said we’ve seen before.” His answer is confirmed by all other indicators. The President doesn’t lie either when he affirms that: “things may recover faster than they have in the past.” This is obviously what the man believes in his heart of hearts, or at least what he hopes.
On Laughing In The Face Of Adversity:
The moment of truth with regard to laughter came during discussion of the ailing automobile industry, when moderator Kroft presented the numbers of legislators in favor of the President’s plan to help General Motors and Chrysler, the President laughed. This was obviously bad timing for such a reaction, but Kroft’s assumption that the President is “laughing about the problems” is either erroneous and ignorant. The President’s laughter in this situation is one of release of frustration:
He makes a nervous laughing gesture when describing the auto industry as even more difficult to help than banks. He had already qualified this by saying GM was not showing viable solutions. On the “support in legislature” for bailing them out, Obama is releasing still more emotion, illustrative of a man caught in between helping a dying industry and getting support where there is none. The man is frustrated and at an impasse obviously. He wants desperately to help, but this is outside his control without GM and constituents in Washington.
Finally, our expert’s conclusion was that Obama laughed because he felt embarrassed by the low number of supporters and the low popularity of this subject. The topic is obviously a sensitive issue in this economical crisis, a factor of stress for the man who has to respond in front of millions for everything he does. Our body language expert concluded that the laughter was nervous, to relieve stress, it did not convey any underlying lack of concern – on the contrary.
We are facing some troubling times. We knew it was going to get really touch before we elected this man, this is in large part why the people chose him – to get the job done. Scrutiny of the man is actually a necessity, but examining the wrong things under a microscope is counter productive and honestly irresponsibility on the part of some media. 60 Minutes is fairly notorious for ambushing notables including just about every sitting President. Given the resources of some of these media people, it is not unreasonable to insist they back up their supposition with, well with analysis like body language cues and etc. The bottom line here is that the meat of this interview was important to the American people and the world, and now so called news men have convoluted it with their spin to attract readers. From our perspective, we think the American people and the world would like reassurances rather than wild speculation.
Laughter is known to provide relief from stress by releasing euphoria producing endorphins, enkephalins, dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline. It’s not uncommon for someone under stress to laugh – sadly the President didn’t realize that his laughter would be taken out of the context, judged and translated wrongly by the viewers. Our expert said the man is highly intelligent and inordinately honest for a politician. She also made a note that President Obama has obviously received body language lessons, but regardless of training the President’s eyes and face reveal a great deal. The man appears to be either supremely genuine or the greatest actor alive. Asked to laugh a little or roll on the floor sobbing, I think a little smile is a better approach for our President. What do you think?