What does a president look like, a friend asks. It's a good question, especially as my wise ArtsJournal colleague Apollinaire Sherr has already drawn attention to Obama's 'loping physical grace', adding:
'I've spent so much of my life reflecting on the meaning of movement, I can't help feeling that our President-Elect's liquid ease bodes well: it's such a rare quality among politicians, who usually seem all bungled up in their bodies, though Bill Clinton had some of that expansiveness - except more in the flesh, which turned out to spell trouble, yes it did)...'
British prime minister Gordon Brown, shifting uncomfortably inside his skin as if it scratches him, is absolutely a 'bungled up' figure. But how do we want a president - any political leader - to move? Absolute monarchs don't need to move at all - we, their cowed and snotty subjects, eddy around their monumental stillness. If they do move, we're in trouble - Elizabeth I preparing to box someone's ears, or Louis XIV disrupting the sclerotic control of Versailles. In contrast, some of the best-loved political leaders have had a homely relationship to their own body: bustling Lloyd George, Churchill's stumpy teddy bear, the astoundingly unaffected Mandela.
Authoritarians need to try harder, which is why they teeter on the edge of ridicule. Buffed-up Putin and cosmetically enhanced Berlusconi are desperate for us to smell the testosterone. I'd love to know whether Dubya adopted his cowboy swagger early, or if it developed as he began his political career, determined, as Oliver Stone's new movie has it, to 'out-Texas Texas.' Bush junior's walk, rounding at the hip, was a gift to caricaturists, careening down the Darwinian scale from good-ol' boy to poorly-briefed chimp.
Without getting carried away, Obama is already developing into his own icon. He has the 'liquid ease' that Apollinaire observes, but also the gift of stillness, a promise of calm reflection rather than bellicose over-reaction. Or maybe I'm hoping too much. Only 76 days to go before we find out...
How do we want a leader to move? Does physical assurance suggest grace or resolute image control? And what else have you spotted about Obama's movement?
I hold Obama's walk is a standard southside Chicago, 'ain't i bad' step. Jesse Jackson's move can be found similar. But the best version can be found near the end of 'Godfather I', by Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as he glides away following informing his brother-in-law that he's got to "answer for Santino". He's the don then. He's 'the man'.