Reading Hillary Clinton’s body language when she talks about the email debacle
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton faced repeated questions about her use of a private computer server for emails while secretary of state during her recent Las Vegas news conference. Her discomfort with the topic was evident — especially if you compare her facial expressions in Las Vegas to her June 13 campaign launch announcement in New York. You can see the sharp contrast if you watch both events with the sound off, focusing on Clinton’s facial expressions and body language.
Clinton is described, by both supporters and critics, as “brainy,” “tough” both personally and politically. In Las Vegas, however, her expressions were more like a tired boxer’s, slightly off-balance and woozy.
For relatively long stretches, given that she was holding a news conference, Clinton repeatedly closed her eyes. By itself, that facial muscle activity is a sign of sadness. But add to this how often she also raised her eyebrows, in ways not necessarily emphasizing her comments. This was unusual for her. And it usually signifies both sadness and anxiety.
Back in New York in June, however, Clinton had been crisp, polished and forceful. Fully two-thirds of her launch announcement news conference involved her either smiling happily or showing resolve – as when she talked about how she would move America forward.
But the Las Vegas version was a startling contrast. There this veteran politician closed her eyes — perhaps signaling she was weary, maybe wanting the email debacle to just go away — roughly nine times more often than she smiled. And her smiles were usually compromised by her simultaneously making an ironic or even sarcastic remark. Normally a confident speaker, the Las Vegas Clinton betrayed an equal number of instances in which her mouth pulled wide in a classic look that can signal fear.
Yes, Clinton’s been known to have a temper. But in Las Vegas any strong signs of anger — when the muscle below the lower lip bulges — were almost matched by the number of times Clinton’s mouth hung open in surprise. She seemed almost stunned at how long media focus has remained on the server issue.
Her hand gestures in the two news events were also remarkably different. During Clinton’s launch announcement, she demonstrated textbook retail politics. She was firm and in control. Reading from prepared remarks, she crisply emphasized parts with in-command finger pointing and miniature hand chops.
The Las Vegas Clinton was, in contrast, awash in loose hand gestures that expanded and contracted, dipping and weaving. She would pull toward her chest when she came back to her theme that she had done nothing wrong.
What to make of it these contrasts between the two news conferences? Even as Clinton in Las Vegas raised her outer eyebrow, which can often indicate fear, she insisted, “I’m very comfortable.” While she said, “I want the American people to see everything,” she closed her eyes. On that impromptu, Nevada give-and-take, we saw a hesitant, less combative Clinton. The old Clinton may well have been, in Obama’s infamous words, “likeable enough.” The new Clinton used a Ronald Reagan line in Las Vegas, “facts are stubborn [things?].”
Whatever she may have wanted to shield from public view by using her own email server, what Clinton’s can’t hide is that she’s now deeply discombobulated.