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[Crossposted at the Democracy Cell Project]

The following debate analysis comes from Certified Movement Analysts Karen Bradley, Martha Eddy, and Karen Studd:

Barack Obama won the Presidental debate last night, but not because he has resolved his own conflicts and challenges. Barack Obama won the debate because John McCain has not escaped the effects from his imprisonment decades ago.

From the beginning of the evening, both men were grappling with new territory, literally. The Town Hall meeting, with the empty space in the middle and actual voters (not the usual vetted supporters) all around is a challenging space in which to deliberate. The setting resembles both a boxing ring and a one-ring circus more than it does a venue for a side-by-side presentation.  Add in all of the people in television land and there is a lot to take into account. Neither man seemed comfortable in the forum, but for different reasons:

Barack Obama lives in the universe of possibilities. His sense of space is vast and often without boundaries. If he were a painter, the canvas he describes as he moves around would be massive, and the colors would run off the edges.  Over the past year-plus that he has been a candidate, he has learned how to narrow and focus his message and to add determination and clarity to it. But last night, he was often hesitant, slow to narrow in, and he wandered around looking slightly uncomfortable before nailing his points.

John McCain, on the other hand, began well, with his solidity and clarity present.  He is a feisty guy who never gives up.  But that is also his flaw. As the evening went on, he became increasingly locked in his body, entrenched in a small enclosed space, often illustrating his own internal contradictions rather than demonstrating solutions: pacing, shifting, side-stepping, restless and deeply uncomfortable.

Both men moved close to the audience and spoke directly to the questioners.  Neither seemed to connect deeply with those questioners or their own responses, with two exceptions

Barack Obama elicited a nod of agreement from one man, who had asked about Israel and Iran. But the real moment of authentic relationship came near the end, when Senator Obama tried to answer (and failed to be specific about) the question about what he needed to learn.  He deferred to his wife. The bond between the Obamas is powerful and resonant, and Michelle’s piercing and passionate silent exchange with her husband at the moment he referred to her spoke volumes. Make no mistake about it, these two are a duet.  It is clear to those watching that, while he may have difficulty, at times, focusing and directing his attention, all he has to do is look at her and he is instantly reminded of who he is and what he is doing.

But John McCain is a solo, solitary guy. When he smiles and relaxes, he can be engaging and present. He did not smile or relax nearly enough last night.  What we observed was a man who carries his own prison with him, emerging only occasionally for a wistful foray with the world of possibilities and who, when speaking of decisive leadership, tended to negate his strong words with unsteady side-stepping.  When he spoke about carrying a big stick, channeling Teddy Roosevelt, he looked down and then side-to-side rapidly, as if the enemy was coming momentarily.  At one point, he literally backed up as he was laying out his readiness to lead. He has been trying to reassure us that he can take care of and protect us from terrible things, but he often looks worried himself, and hardly prepared to unlock his own strength, much less rally the troops.

It can be heart-breaking to watch this epic election struggle unfold.  From the Vietnam War to Watergate to Iran Contra to BCCI to Iraq to the current economic crisis, ambition and greed have generated hubris and poor judgment, causing too many to overreach, bypassing their fellow citizens along the way and causing great grief to the country and the world. John McCain clearly knows this, but from his own cell, he is helpless to equip others to do what he cannot and has not done.

Barack Obama also knows the dangers of overreaching, and has perhaps been too cautious and nonspecific in his leadership style. In the past two debates he has landed on clear strong intentions; enough to assure the voters that he knows he cannot be arrogant or vague. He must take strong lucid stands against the real enemies that plague us:  our own appetites, ever unsatisfied, and our tendency towards indifference to the world we share. But after all the observations are finished, one piece of evidence stands out in its clarity: it is Michelle who helps him get to the heart of the matter.

Obama is comprehensive and complex; McCain is simple and straightforward. Obama is a mobilizer, McCain is a stabilizer. On these levels, the choices are easy: at this point in time, what does the country need most from its leaders?  

Last night, however, revealed far more than the differences between each man’s style.  Last night we saw the fullness of the dilemma we are in as a country played out.

The confined man cannot move us ahead.  The free man gives us hope.  And maybe hope is all we can wish for now.


The above is based on observations made using Laban Movement Analysis by three Certified Movement Analysts sharing observation data and coming to consensus at the end of the second Presidential debate, October 7, 2008.  Karen Bradley is the Director of Graduate Studies in Dance at the University of Maryland, College Park, Director of Research at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York City and a Senior Research Fellow at the James MacGregor Burns Center for Leadership Studies at the University of Maryland. Dr. Martha Eddy is a Senior Research Associate with the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies and Director of the Center for Kinesthetic Education in New York City. Karen Studd is Associate Professor of Dance at George Mason University and Coordinator of Modular Movement Analysis Training Programs at the Laban/Bartenieff of Movement Studies.  The three are available for follow-up questions, further analysis, or future consulting.

Originally posted to karendc on Wed Oct 08, 2008 at 09:55 AM PDT.

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