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Kerry's Smile-Fix is Not Enough; He needs to Show America His Heart and Some Tough Humor

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Kerry's Smile-Fix is Not Enough; He needs to Show America His Heart and Some Tough Humor

By Rob Kall


The first time I saw John Kerry stumping for the presidency was mid June 2003, at the Take Back America conference. I watched him speak for about 20 minutes without once, not one single time, cracking a smile. Kerry's numb, dead face worried me then. It was one of the factors that led me to put him lower on my list than Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, and Carol Mosley Braun, about even with John Edwards, who to my mind, came off as too conservative. You have to understand that I am an expert on smiling and have lectured on the anatomy of smiling and how to produce stronger smiles.

So, as the primaries proceeded, I called his campaign office and emailed them, telling them that Kerry  needed to fix his smile. They never contacted me, but it was clear that he was getting some coaching, his face brightened up and you could see smiles routinely. Kerry wasn't alone. Bush had clearly received training and support to help him get rid of his reptilian smirk. Just watch Bush at a serious talk, and more important-- watch all his handlers-- Rice, Rove, Rumsfeld-- they all have continuous dead serious faces, to act as mirrors and reminders to Bush to nix the vapid smirk.

It was a relief to see Kerry  fix his dead face, because I  think, that without adding those smiles, he would have been severely ridiculed as humorless, otherwise. But it is now clear that the smile fix is not enough. Bob Herbert writes,  in his article, Waiting for the Candidate to Emerge, that "John Kerry needs to make a stronger emotional connection with voters by revealing more of himself."

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Herbert says, in his NY Times column, 'Mr. Kerry has suffered recently in the polls primarily because of his reluctance to put his authentic self on display. He's run a cautious, soulless campaign so far, saying only the things he thinks he should, and shadow boxing instead of really mixing it up, as if he were afraid, as Bonnie Raitt once memorably sang, "to throw a punch that might land."'

The thing about genuine smiles is they reflect to the world what is happening in your heart. I can teach anyone how to fake a genuine smile, but.... even that will only go so far. Americans are scrutinizing John Kerry to see who he is, what he feels, what kind of person he is, down to the bone. Kerry is not doing enough by activating his zygomaticus (primary smile muscle) and lower lateral pars palpabreus (the muscle that crinkles crows, feet, that Clint Eastwood flexes with his "make my day" line.) 

He needs to let us see into his heart, to see the kind of man who had the courage to come back from Viet Nam and speak out against its stupidity and failures. He needs to show us the kind of man he is who earned the love and respect of Theresa Heinz-- an awesome woman who could have had her pick of any man.

He can do this. It's not something that comes naturally to everyone. But it's something that some effective coaches can bring out, can enable him to let down his guard. Al Gore learned how to do it too late, after the election was stolen. Kerry can and must let the light in his heart shine through.

I've seen Kerry live, when he's done giving his speeches, after he's stepped away from the podium, when he's greeting colleagues, just chatting with plain folks, and there, his smile is naturally genuine and his heart shines through, real and easily accessible. Somehow, he has to start getting that part of his self across often enough so the media show it.

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Over the years, I've given many workshops and lectures on smiling and touching the heart. I usually ask people to share an anecdote of a touching, heartwarming moment or positive experience with the rest of the audience. I ask for a show of hands to see how many people are willing. Usually a few raise their hands. I pick one. He or she tells a story that touches the hearts of everyone listening. I ask for another volunteer and do the same thing. Then I ask both volunteers how it felt to tell their stories. Both felt great. It never fails. Telling heartwarming stories feels good for the teller and good for the listener.

Kerry needs to reach into his heart and talk from his heart. This will feel good for him and he'll know when he's getting it right, but it will feel even better for the American Public, who will know the difference between a real, heart-connected man and the guy who's been trying to serve the mob of advisors he's been kowtowing to, all the time, failing to reach the part of the American public it takes to win an election-- their hearts. The problem is, it can be tough to speak from the heart. When I give my talks, even after getting the people who did take the risk and share their "heartwarmers" to describe how good it felt, and even after pointing out that it feels really good, still, one quarter to one half of the audience fails to raise their hands and volunteer to share their own good feeling anecdotes. For Kerry, it is a must, if he wants to win the election.

The other thing Kerry needs to do is to use humor in his speeches. This is really a job for his speechwriters. Kerry can still give a speech without a single smile in it. Even if it's a serious speech, he needs to add some smiles and humor to it. This does not have to be funny or heartwarming-- it can be sarcastic. Bush does it all the time, and actually, he's an expert at it. Kerry needs to learn how to smile and make a remark that's a joke at Geedubya's or the Republican's expense. You might consider this more of sneer, but if done with a light smile and a chuckle, it doesn't come across as mean-spirited. Bush uses this powerful strategy virtually every time he talks.

It's a power tool that any presidential candidate needs to be able to use, and use effectively. If Kerry and his writing team started adding it to his speeches, you can be sure it would rip into the self-righteous certainty of many of the Bush supporters who support Bush because of his ability to use the smiling sarcastic rip attack.

Bush does not open his heart. He's a closed book that way, and it may be because if he did, there'd be very little light shining from his rich frat-boy, always saved by Daddy heart. If Kerry can open his heart and begin using the laughing sarcastic attack, he'll be one up on Bush, showing that he can take Bush on at the toughness level and surpass Bush on the heart level.

Rob Kall rob@opednews.com is editor of www.OpEdNews.Com living in Bucks County , PA.   You can find over 150 additional articles by Rob Kall at this Archive


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