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Debate LiveBlog: Looking Beyond the Words

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2007-07-24-atthedebate2.jpgWelcome to HuffPost's exclusive liveblog of the CNN/YouTube debate. Traditionally, candidates are judged by what they say during a debate -- did they score by delivering a memorable zinger or tank by making a memorable gaffe? But what about all the nonverbal parts of their presentation -- body language, gestures, facial expressions, vocal timbre -- that are equally (and sometimes even more) important in determining who connects with voters, and who doesn't? Join us now as Howard Fine, renowned coach to many Hollywood actors, and John Neffinger, an expert in nonverbal communication, offer their real-time reactions to what the candidates are communicating beyond their words.

[We pick up the conversation a few minutes in, with a question about reparations for slavery which evolves into a discussion about mortgage lenders discriminating against African-American applicants]

HOWARD: This is where Edwards is good because he's on his two Americas theme, and he's really connected to it.
JOHN: It's worthy of all of his over the top emoting when he's talking about black people getting ripped off. It works. It totally works.
HOWARD: It's also where his folksy style and his southern speech really help him
JOHN: He's doing the economic populism thing well, and you can't really argue against it on this issue.
HOWARD: No one's gonna have more authority than him on this issue. Of course, Obama
when he's at his strength, which is inspiring, he is powerful. He has the gift to inspire...
Oh my goodness! The far lefty [Kucinich] is quoting the Bible!
JOHN: Obama is looking more relaxed than he has in the previous debates. He's speaking fluidly, and off the cuff. He looks on top of his game. He's calm and collected tonight.

HOWARD: [Dodd] has a terrible habit as if he's speaking in the senate chamber instead of to the audience at hand. He comes across as speech-making instead of really talking.
See now he starts to raise his voice for emphasis, which makes people scared.
It makes presidential candidates seem unstable
JOHN: Dodd has a deep, resonant voice that suits him well for the Senate. He always reminds me a little of Sam the American Eagle from the Muppets -- his eyebrows make him look like his brow is furrowed all the time.
HOWARD: Haha. Bill Richardson looks nervous. he's not breathing deeply. Bill Richardson makes accurate comments, but he's not making a connection to the audience when he does it. He's less warm here than he just was. I'm not sure that the comment about the cab in New York will really go over well. I think he had an opportunity to be a little more magnanimous and a little more inspiring... It'll be interesting to see whether Hillary uses humor.
JOHN: When Richardson doesn't know what to say, he says, "This is what I would do..." It was fine the first few times... A big, broad smile from Obama. The smile went away quickly, although that's probably appropriate given that he's talking about race.
HOWARD: Hillary just took the inspiration tone that I hoped Obama would.
JOHN: A great big smile from Hillary as well. The feistiness of these questions might be good for all their images if it loosens them up.
HOWARD: Edwards is consistently on his game when he talks about the two Americas.
JOHN: Edwards is looking as good as he has in any of these debates.
HOWARD: Most are, with the exception of Kucinich and Gravel -- they aren't at the top of their game. Neither is Bill Richardson for that matter... Hillary has struck a very good balance between getting facts out and appearing very personable here... That's [Kucinich's] best moment by far.... Dodd turns a simple answer into a speech
JOHN: Exactly right — Kucinich turned on the emotion for that answer, whereas Dodd gave a plodding policy speech.

HOWARD: Now Richardson's turned what could have been a very powerful answer into a laundry list. JOHN: When Edwards says, "I feel enormous internal conflict about this issue," he says it with the same smooth delivery that he uses for everything else. I don't feel it, and I don't believe him. HOWARD: I agree with that. Where you see evidence of that is that emotions travel, and when they begin to state policy points that have been pre-determined, then their voices start to sound monotone. it starts to sound inauthentic. This is by far Obama's most solid performance in a debate -- he's answering the questions simply, honestly, truthfully, and is not turning his answers into a stump speech, which some of the others have a terrible habit of doing JOHN: I think Obama could have used a little bit more emotion talking about equal rights, but maybe he doesn't need to hit that point too hard. HOWARD: Is this the first time in these presidential debates when there are commercials? Maybe that goes with YouTube. JOHN: So, first commercial break (and our technology is working!). So far, some strong performances..? HOWARD: Yes, there have been some VERY strong performances, especially by the three front-runners.... [We're back.] Why is Edwards taking notes rather than watching that video? It makes him look unsympathetic. JOHN: Like Edwards is not paying attention to the people asking the questions. HOWARD: Richardson has used that phrase - "This is what I would do" - over and over again, and one of the things that has been very powerful with the YouTube is hearing real circumstances - from the gay couple, directly from Darfur. Richardson is saying very smart things, he's a very smart guy, but he comes off more to me as a secretary of state than as a president... Here's where Biden needs to be careful. He starts to make speeches, he loves to hear his own voice when he gets on a roll like this, it's the old Joe Biden again. It's not pleasant.

2007-07-24-CNNYouTube13.JPGJOHN: Biden has righteous indignation in his voice.
HOWARD: That is exactly right, very righteous.
JOHN: He kept it just on this side of the line.
HOWARD: Just under.
JOHN: Hillary is clearly in command of this issue [Iraq options]. Very strong on the policy elements of this. It's interesting to hear her discuss military operations in that level of detail.
HOWARD: What's strong about Hillary is that she doesn't keep saying "This is what i would do if I were president"- it's a given she comes across as very strong
JOHN: The challenge for any woman candidate is to appear strong enough to be Commander in Chief. Hillary has thoroughly checked that box. You never hear the word "weak" used with her.
HOWARD: That's accurate.
2007-07-24-CNNYouTubeObama.JPGJOHN: Obama's anger here [on Iraq] is very effective. He's mad and he's not going to take it any more.
HOWARD: I think it's always weak when they make a blanket statement that's self-serving -- ie "I opposed this war from the start" We already know that! It's much better when they just answer the question. Obama arrived at exactly the right spot but I wish he had begun directly.
JOHN: Right, he left the question hanging, but his answer was otherwise very strong.
HOWARD: Here Biden gets haughty again.

JOHN: He is on his high horse. A little too often.
HOWARD: That is exactly right; he keeps getting off track by doing that.
JOHN: It is effective to a point, but it is inadvisable for him to spend the whole evening outraged.
HOWARD: Very inadvisable. That's why Hillary comes across as very presidential, because she sounds very balanced in all her responses. In the back of our mind is always "Who do we want to have their hands on the nuclear button?" and we want someone stable... Kucinich is being very self-serving.
JOHN: Hillary raised her voice there in talking about the Pentagon's outrageous response on Iraq -- a good moment for the full bellow.
HOWARD: A great moment, because she rallied people, especially the base, when she said people called her unpatriotic.

JOHN: Dodd hasn't had time in these debates to show us much besides his stern, strong side.
HOWARD: That's true... Boy, Gravel comes off as a crank. He's not a guy you'd want 2007-07-24-CNNYouTube17.JPGto cut off in traffic -- he'd come at you with a bat! He looks unstable, wild-eyed. It's not just what people say, it's their whole appearance. Look! The director is zooming in on him because they get how great it is -- it's like watching "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"!
JOHN: Wild-eyed is exactly right.
HOWARD: God, everyone should want him on the stage, because he makes everyone else look better. When you cut to Obama. he looks calm, collected and presidential.

JOHN: Obama looks very composed. On these military issues, it's exactly the right note -- forceful, but even-tempered.
HOWARD: I couldn't agree more. [WIth Edwards,] it's interesting again that the director is going for a close shot on the eyes. But I still get the sense from Edwards that he's
deliberately trying to pull on the heartstrings of the audience, not that he's speaking authentically.
JOHN: Yeah, so close you couldn't even see his haircut.
HOWARD: Hahahahaha. It's got a little wave in the front, and I'm sure the audience is wondering how much Edwards paid for it and how long it took to make it look like that. Dodd turns everything he says into a stump speech!
JOHN: Exactly -- Edwards is pushing all the audience's anger buttons on Iraq, but he is not showing the composure he needs to be in addressing military affairs.

HOWARD: I think one of the reasons Hillary does so well in the debate is that, even though she's not the most dynamic speaker, she appears very competent and composed. This looks like a two-person race to me: between Obama and Clinton. Unfortunately when they cut to Hillary for a reaction shot while Obama was speaking she looked a little bored, which is not appealing.
JOHN: If we're hiring a commander in chief, Hillary and Obama look they part.
HOWARD: Yes -- Obama and Hilary do. Gravel should seriously consider Prozac

JOHN: Gravel is trying to be the Howard Dean of this cycle. His raw passion is apparent.
HOWARD: Yes, but he looks like a loose cannon.
JOHN: Gravel likes to throw rocks in the water and then stand back and admire the ripples.
HOWARD: Hahahaha that's very good.

2007-07-24-CNNYouTube16.JPGHOWARD: Obama's gesturing much less than in the last debate -- when he is it comes across as much more natural. He comes across as intelligent and wise, and doesn't look like he's trying too hard, as he did in the last debate.
JOHN: This is what Obama has been trying to do these past few debates -- he looks calm and commanding.
JOHN: The mix of questions is heavy on national security, which is playing to the strengths of our calm and composed front-runners.
HOWARD: That's correct.

8:05 HOWARD: But I think it also goes to the broader question of leadership, period and what makes you trust someone. JOHN: Hillary's answer [about meeting with leaders of countries that oppose the U.S.] was more strategic in nature than Obama's -- it shows an impressive level of sophistication on security issues. HOWARD: And you realize you don't want a hothead in the white house. Hillary has the greatest challenge to come across as a commander-in-chief as a woman. JOHN: Exactly, and she is rising to it impressively. HOWARD: Dodd's speaking almost without breathing, and it comes across almost as pre-formed, because you don't see him thinking about the answer... Richardson has been harping on their differences to carve a place for himself in the debate... This is where Biden gets self-serving, he's doing it again. The Elevator going up... JOHN: He has been shot at! How dare you. HOWARD: That was SO self-serving! JOHN: Biden is in full dudgeon. The issue is worthy of it, but we've heard it before.

JOHN: Hillary's invoking her "comprehensive 3-point plan" was a little cliched. But her explanation of the military withdrawal options is very convincing -- again, she knows her stuff...
Kucinich is giving Biden a run for his money.
HOWARD: She sure does. And I think that's how she gets her credentials as a commander in chief... The director of that commercial clearly calmed Gravel down.
JOHN: That was the most sober Gravel we have ever seen. Where is that guy on the stage?

HOWARD: Whoever directed that commercial needs to follow Gravel around!
JOHN: Commercial break - what do we think now?
HOWARD: The two strongest to me are Clinton and Obama.
Richardson periodically comes across very well.
Kucinich is likable, but not presidential... Gravel is frightening.
JOHN: Yes, the two front-runners are very composed dealing with the gravest of issues. Richardson has been doing much better.
HOWARD: The biggest surprise to me is how poorly Edwards is coming off.
He seems completely like a politician. And, yes, Richardson is doing much better -- he speaks simply, and certainly has a very good command of the facts.
JOHN: In the past, Richardson would raise his eyebrows up his forehead a lot, pleading with the audience to believe what he was saying. Tonight he hasn't been doing that, and is coming across much stronger.
HOWARD: But at this point, Richardson may be running for vice president. That's one of Richardson's first smiles right there.
JOHN: That Richardson commercial showed him warm and funny -- haven't seen much of that... Exactly.
HOWARD: No, not at all. oh my goodness! It's so great for Obama that he gets to follow Gravel each time.
JOHN: I don't know if I'd want to get a beer with Gravel, but I'd love to have him there at Thanksgiving to crack everybody up.

HOWARD: Now let's see if Biden can avoid giving a speech here.
JOHN: It's a speech of sorts, but Biden maintained his composure, very effective.
HOWARD: Yes, it was nice to see Biden simple and real. But i think that in this debate, when they fall into the narrative that's expected of them, it really hurts, and he's gotten back into that habit in this debate... Richardson has an advantage dealing with education because he's speaking from experience.
JOHN: Right, he speaks with great authority on this. Here his wonky plans sound good - he knows his stuff.
HOWARD: Yep. Biden is starting simply. This is Joe Biden at his best.

JOHN: Biden felt his answer on education. It wasn't a speech, it was from the heart.
That was a great smile Hillary just showed us!
HOWARD: We love seeing them smile because it shows an ease and a little bit of self-deprecating humor, which is amusing.
JOHN: Especially appropriate when the topic turns to our kids.

HOWARD: Dodd has a little bit of Biden's problem; he gets a little self-conscious.
JOHN: "No other issue is as important as this one," says Dodd. Until the next one, that is.
HOWARD: Why couldn't Edwards just begin with the answer? He always has to frame it, which makes him look like a politician, and not in a good way.
JOHN: The context is his biography: his kids, his working in the mill, etc.

8:25 HOWARD: Yes. Great way to introduce the question about Gore's potential entrance in the race. Ha. JOHN: That was a good answer from Obama -- his skinniness makes him look a little young, and his explaining how he takes responsibility as a dad, including on the tough issues, looks great. HOWARD: Yes, it also makes him look hip to the YouTube generation that's hopefully watching this. JOHN: Good point. He's a cool dad.

HOWARD: Kucinich comes across as very smart, but nothing in his demeanor suggests he'd make a good leader.
JOHN: I'm sorry, I just can't get past his spotted tie - checked shirt combo tonight.
HOWARD: Yes! And his pasted down hair.
JOHN: Even when Gravel is calm in his demeanor, he is saying things like "totally corrupt."
HOWARD: Gravel started well and then immediately went to anger! It seems to be his central emotion
JOHN: Yes, it's only a matter of time, and not much time either.

HOWARD: That's was very strong on Hillary's part; she does not let herself get pushed around.
JOHN: No way no how... Edwards' posture consistently undercuts his delivery. His shoulders are slumped forward, and it makes him seem much less strong, less presidential.

HOWARD: The thing about Richardson that doesn't work is that he has a look in his eyes that's one set expression that says "I am a sincere guy" and he slumps his shoulders. He has that one expression, and I don't see others; it makes it seems rehearsed
JOHN: That's what made that commercial so noteworthy - Richardson's emotional range on stage is very narrow.

JOHN: So this is probably the last break in the action before the end. What do you think?
HOWARD: it seems as if most of the candidates have a set narrative, and they fall apart when they accede to that narrative. for example, if Hillary were to come across as cold, she would fall into her trap, or biden that he's a bit of a blowhard.
That's a better outfit for Kucinich [in the commercial]!
JOHN: Yeah, each candidate has painted a pretty consistent picture of themselves tonight.

8:40 HOWARD: great question [about the minimum wage] JOHN: God bless her. HOWARD: Dodd can not answer the question simply! ... Obama is great here! JOHN: That was the warmest, most human, least rehearsed moment we have seen from Obama all night. HOWARD: Just answer the question, Kucinich! JOHN: We saw his smile and his sense of humor - that's what got him on the stage in the first place.

HOWARD: Yes, and he's gotten away from that in the most recent debates; he's way on his game tonight. Watch Chris Dodd -- he barely takes a breath. It makes us nervous. His phrasing makes us uncomfortable.
JOHN: Breathing takes time, he has a lot to say!
HOWARD: But by cramming it in that quickly it gives us a sense of anxiety
JOHN: Exactly - he seems ill at ease, so we do too.
HOWARD: No matter what Richardson is talking about, he has the same expression

JOHN: Same vocal pace, same vocal tone too. The slow, deliberate pace of his speech suggests he's trying to remember rehearsed answers rather than speaking off the cuff.
HOWARD: I agree. Biden was strong when he spoke; he seems real when he doesn't get on his high horse
JOHN: Yes, he should show us more of that.

8:49 HOWARD: Obama framed the health care debate very, very well JOHN: Very impressive, especially when you consider he looks good standing next to Hillary and Edwards, who are very good on this. HOWARD: That did not come off well "a three-day poverty tour..." he's coming across as very self-serving JOHN: Yes, not good - he is a poverty tourist? HOWARD: That was a touch of her husband, remembering their names. Good lord! Dodd just winds up ready to let loose.

HOWARD: Anderson is so right to try to get them to answer the question asked. Sometimes the candidates- and Richardson's a bad example- think they'll win if they get out all their policy points
JOHN: That's a democratic-party-wide problem, yes.

HOWARD: Look at Hillary's demeanor as opposed to Dodd's
JOHN: Great point about Hillary's demeanor - the contrast between the calm front-runners and the fire-breathing second tier is very stark tonight
HOWARD: She looks cool, calm, she takes her time, nothing about her provokes anxiety. I think Biden has gotten a little better.

JOHN: Maybe Biden is getting too tired to rant
HOWARD: Watch the amount that Edwards is gesturing. He's indicating to the audience. That was a scary question!
JOHN: Damn - purchased under the gun ban.

HOWARD: Good, Biden, very good!
JOHN: Go Joe! The bit about him being mentally unqualified was a step too far, but still. A little humor is a great relief.
HOWARD: Unfortunate for Joe Biden, that he ran into the time issue. It again falls into the narrative
JOHN: Exactly, the guy can't quite quit when he's ahead (re: Biden realizing he got a laugh and going one step further).
HOWARD: What a curmudgeon this man. [Gravel.]

HOWARD: That was a catty remark! (when Edwards commented on Hillary's coat)
JOHN: I'm not sure Senator Edwards should be flaunting his refined aesthetic tastes.
HOWARD: I think that's true! Hillary came off great answering that question -- she sounded so presidential, so above the fray. Good answer (for Kucinich)
JOHN: Okay, some more humor from these characters - very good all around.

9:10 JOHN: Wow, that was a marathon - 2 hours and 10 minutes. The YouTube format definitely helped liven things up, or I don't think we could have made it this long. HOWARD: I think the YouTube format actually worked very well because it gave us a chance to hear the questions from the source, from a gay couple for gay marriage and from sick patients on health care, was really powerful - it also let the candidates speak from their hearts Some of the candidate, Edwards being one, sometimes Biden, sometimes Richardson, think they'll win the debate on points, like in High School or College, rather than the general appearance; Dodd, especially, was trying to overwhelm with his points. But we don't remember facts - we remember a general impression. HOWARD: What will win votes is the overall appearance- whether, in short, the candidate appears presidential. Hillary was extraordinary in this regard. Biden has the potential, but he often shoots himself in the foot when he goes on too long. And Kucinich and Gravel appear marginal, unfortunately.

JOHN: Both Hillary and Obama looked very good tonight. Hillary continued to project strength, and showed an impressive understanding of security issues. She also showed us her warmer side several times this evening.

JOHN She has been better - she still shies away from many opportunities to show us more warmth and humor. Overall, a strong performance - calm and competent and Presidential.

Obama was perhaps the best he has appeared in any of these debates. At times, he spoke with the passion that originally energized people when he emerged on the national stage. He has been trying
to appear commanding and poised for several debates, and he pulled it off tonight - fewer "um"s between his words, more confident delivery overall.

2007-07-24-SamtheAmericanEagleMuppets.jpgObama did not recapture the magic that brought him here tonight, but he definitely helped his cause.

Edwards did not show us anything we have not seen before. He is emotive and smart and engaged, but did not show us the gravitas of a commander in chief on the security issues. He was good at cheerleading against President Bush, but he did not stake out any new ground for himself.

Richardson and Biden both did fine, but not well enough to cause anyone to look at them anew.

Dodd did alright as well, but again, not much progress there. Still consistently stern, too consistently.

Kucinich and Gravel should run as a ticket.

Thank you for joining us.