Tuesday evening we went down the old presidential debate road yet again, meeting our candidates and "friends" Mitt Romney and Barack Obama for a second time with all the convivial discourse-ready trappings of America: flaming red carpet and wallpaper stars, soaring eagle murals and backless stools upon which to prop, two guys in dark suits and flag pins. Candy Crowley was there as moderator, and a bunch of real-blooded American folks hung out in the background in the room at Hofstra University where Presidential Debate Number 2 would occur. This was the "town hall" debate, with audience participation!
As usual, you can turn elsewhere on the Atlantic Wire for apt coverage of the debate itself and its aftermath. Here, with the help of a few linguistic experts—Michael Erard, author of the recent book Babel No More; James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung, who analyzed the debate on their Wordwatchers blog; Geoffrey Pullum, a visiting professor at Brown University; and semantic analysis provider Expert System, we'll focus on the words and style of our two candidates.
Let's start with pure style. Both men had on dark suits. Obama's suit was darker, slimmer-cut, and maybe a bit shinier. Romney's tie pin was noticeably larger—bigger than last debate's, even? Maybe. Obama's tie was burgundy, Romney's was blue with light diagonal stripes. Both men looked presidential—tall, poised, well-groomed, etc.—in so much as any of us know what that means. Obama's energy level was notably higher than it had been in the first debate: Instead of slouching with his head down, almost looking like he was on the verge of sleep, there were moments that he appeared nearly on the verge of a fight. Romney did, too, with the two guys circling each other at one point that had Twitter predicting a brawl between them; there was loads of passionate finger pointing, too. In terms of posture, Obama tended to sit on his chair leaning at a sharp angle to the left, his arm draped down, which seemed a sort of relaxed but attentive pose (I can't tell if his head is cocked or if his whole body is just in a lean). I noted Romney standing in the fig-leaf position once or twice (denoting a need for self-protection?), but he seemed to note it as well and correct it.