In the run up to President Joe Biden’s first address before Congress, newspapers across the country had begun to discuss his first 100 days in office. Just about all had agreed that Biden was boring. There was, as Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine’s Intelligencer put it, “There’s nothing in Biden’s vanilla-ice-cream bromides for his critics to hook on to. Republicans can’t stop Biden because he is boring them to death.”
But as it turns out, Biden’s first address was anything but boring, as he laid out his vision of where the country should be headed. The speech was already historic for so many reasons, including the presence of Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was also delivered before a loosely packed, socially distanced audience. In it, the president called for more government spending, which is meant to result in more jobs; a better social safety net; as well as new tax laws aimed at getting large corporations to pay their fair share. Part of this, the president said, was pandemic driven, because the country needed to help those who “feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that’s rapidly changing” (via The New York Times).
'Biden appeared relaxed' — body language expert
While the speech might have sounded bold and audacious, body language expert and managing attorney Joseph Hoelscher of Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC tells The List that the president was in the driver’s seat. “First, Biden was very relaxed compared to the presidential debates, for example, or even during his inauguration. He has a tendency to lecture his audience when he’s stressed. That didn’t happen. There were only a few moments when he used aggressive or accusatory hand gestures such as pointing at people or wagging a finger,” he says.
“On the whole, this indicates he wasn’t feeling pressured and was comfortable and confident. Other signs of his comfort, especially early, were his even skin tone, breathing, and lack of muscle tension while leaning on [the] podium or resting his hands.”
But the president’s demeanor changed when he addressed gun violence. “He began shifting his weight from one leg to the other and became more mobile. His face flushed and his head came forward and slightly down, an adversarial posture, similar to what you’d see in someone preparing to fight,” Hoelscher explained to The List.
Biden appeared confident when he talked about these issues
Gun violence wasn’t the only issue that got President Biden excited. “When discussing the ‘lines of cars’ to get food, [Biden’s] eyes were widened and his shoulders went slightly back, his hands tensed. He gave every indication that he was still affected by those images,” noted Hoelscher.
Biden also appeared to be especially moved when he talked about health care. “Discussing health care, specifically cancer, he fell out of his very controlled performance briefly. In fact, it was the only time he lost awareness of his mic distance, which practiced speakers rarely do. Falling away from his training is a sign that his cognitive resources were taxed, that his attention was divided. Curing cancer is something in which Biden is personally invested.”
There is one goal that the president may have inadvertently revealed, through his body language, would be relatively easy to get done: “On [the issues of] unions, jobs, and equal pay, he [Biden] was so calm, it’s clear he thinks those goals will be easy to achieve. He had a subtle smirk in the left corner of his mouth. Basically, he thinks these are done deals and that opposition would be a very bad idea,” said attorney Joseph Hoelscher, of Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC.
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