Photographers' Blog

Two Candidates… Smiles Apart

October 18, 2012

By Larry Downing

The final Presidential debate between incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is only a few short autumn days away and a great chance to somehow connect with and persuade undecided voters to punch their ticket on Election Day 2012.

Both men have so far scored high marks as fearless debaters eloquently pointing out the glaring weaknesses and flaws hiding inside the “other” party’s ideologue with precise, intellectual arguments measuring up to the price of their Harvard University degrees. It has also proved to be a stress test for each one to be seen as polite while on a national stage, yet, still aggressively arguing their own passions and at the same time remembering there is no more promise of campaigns tomorrow once the votes are tallied.

And both have proven themselves as equally impassioned candidates grinding through this endless campaign season leading up to November 6th. Two ambitious politicians consumed by their own determination to convince voters to let their families move upstairs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years by singing party lyrics to anyone carrying a microphone. These two foes are politically polar-opposites linked together by their joint willingness to invite the sharp, concentrated lights of the national news media into their personal space to snoop around much like the late night reality shows.

But one piece of the election puzzle remains open to discussion… my own interpretation of what I define as “it.”

My first exposure to Presidential campaign coverage started in 1980 when I was assigned by “Newsweek” magazine to photograph Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. I was witness first hand to a grand show as the “great communicator” skillfully managed his shot into eight years as the U.S. President.

Reagan easily calmed his crowds and he quickly connected with the party faithful in large part to what supporters said was a special and magical “it.” Many couldn’t put a finger on that but after watching his performance I knew “it” was his magnetic smile. Once “it” was flashed the room surrendered; he never lost that ability.

The four living U.S. Presidents also had discovered where that fountain was hidden and drank up. Coincidentally, they all shared the same laughing technique; eyes closed, head tilted slightly back while seemingly out of breath; a smile so big and so deep any tension from within the room evaporated before their smile finished.

It’s a simple case of watching four men comfortably relaxed inside their own skin.

Jimmy Carter’s oral brilliance looked like a long shiny bracelet of white candied gum squares stretched horizontally across a friendly mouth; he had teeth and he showed them off! However, that smile dimmed dark later while running for re-election after U.S. Embassy personnel were taken hostage in Tehran and held for 444 stressful days during the campaign. Carter lost to Reagan in 1980 and those hostages were released on the same day of Reagan’s inauguration.

George H.W. Bush was tall, thin, and appeared slight in stature yet his smile was genuine and almost knocked him over every time he roared back.

His son, George W, Bush, always seemed to have a mischievous secret hidden inside each one of his smiles.

No president laughed more in front of my camera than Bill Clinton. And no one seemed to enjoy being president more than him either. I’ve always joked Bill Clinton could play Bill Clinton in public better than anyone else in the world. His laugh enveloped every fiber of his body and it was a treat to watch his show.

President Barack Obama’s smile mirrors the one used by actor George Clooney…dead on. Perhaps Obama’s frequent West Coast trips and numerous “Hollywood” fundraisers have rubbed off on him. Clooney proves “it” exists and his smile might be a good example for Romney to look at while practicing his own smile in the mirror. Romney’s got great potential for more electricity in his smile but it seems to me to he’s holding back on the trigger. I spent one week traveling with his campaign and found very few opportunities to capture a trophy grin.

Perhaps the greatest smile ever seen from a politician was the premiere showing of what I called the surprised “wild-eyed bug” delivered by then-first lady Hillary Clinton at the White House. That instantly became the gold standard for all politicians hoping to use their smile as bait for votes. She set the bar so high that failure to duplicate it has always been expected. Her sole dominance of that particular smile ended earlier this summer after an unidentified supporter popped up in the crowd at an Obama campaign rally and executed a nearly flawless Hillary Clinton “wild-eyed bug” for President Obama.

Another favorite of mine is the roaring “Moon Howl” laugh executed perfectly in each attempt by former-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She does that technique frequently on Capitol Hill and it is as much fun to watch as to listen to as she howls out loud.

Even former Vice President Al Gore adopted Pelosi’s smile-style late in the game at the end of his run for the Oval Office.

Disclaimer: This blog does not endorse nor support either U.S. Presidential candidate in 2012. It is intended to make you discover your own “it” and smile…

Special thanks to Reuters photographers Mike Segar and Stel Varias for use of one each of their photographs.

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