The party nominating convention is an anachronism, a holdover from another time when the conventions actually nominated candidates. Now the convention is only a playground for delegates, candidates, reporters, pundits and assorted hangers-on, class reunions to enjoy trading stories.
We shouldn't expect anybody to show up with big ideas. It's not that no one thinks them, but the big ideas are already out there. Democrats in Boston this week, and Republicans in New York City next month, merely aim to slip into the appropriate groove.
The groove is how the candidate wants the audience to identify with him, to connect with him with spontaneous emotion. He wants to give the voter reasons to like him, if not love him. Body language and facial expressions will be important. The close-up may reveal more than a thousand words. Is the smile shallow or genuine? Is the sincerity successfully faked? Are the eyes synchronized with the expressed emotion? When we read his lips, can we believe him?
Daniel Hill, who interprets facial expressions of consumers for Sensory Logic, a marketing firm, has studied the expressions of the presidential candidates and their wives. Of the four, he finds George Bush and Teresa Heinz Kerry to be the most expressive and spontaneous. The Bush smile is genuine, he tells the New York Times. "You can see that either as cockiness or smugness, depending on how you're oriented to him." Mrs. Kerry, on the other hand, displays a "super sneer," or social smile, rarely a genuine one.
Despite the words of affection that publicly flow between John Kerry and his wife, the not-so-dynamic duo looked positively adolescent on "60 Minutes," awkwardly trying to grasp the other's hand. They'll probably improve on that this week in Boston. When Mr. Kerry introduced John Edwards as his running mate, the two manly Johns acted more like two giddy schoolgirls who had just been inducted into a sorority than two seasoned pols embarking on a crusade. They hugged, nuzzled, cuddled and rubbed against each other in congratulatory embrace, but if they thought they were channeling the touchy-feely therapeutic culture that Bill Clinton uses so successfully, they were out of their depth, and it showed. Watch for attempts at dignity in Boston.
But there's a danger here. John Kerry is not Robert Redford's handsome celluloid presidential wannabe of "The Candidate." His demeanor and long, serious face call to mind what Julius Caesar observed about one of his rivals: "Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous."