Grand Gestures

I have been fascinated by the hand gestures of politicians for a long time. You can really tell a great deal about a person through the manner in which they use their hands to get a point across. The pictures above demonstrate four very different people using four different types of hand gestures. I chose these specific gestures because they are the definitive gestures of each person in my opinion.


Bill’s patented “modified finger point” -created by bending the index finger back towards yourself and around the thumb to “soften” the blow of a direct point- became so synonymous with him that every impressionist on earth (myself included) incorporated it into his impersonation. As to my interpretation of what this particular gesture says about Clinton, I believe it shows that he is calculating, practiced, shrewd, and a bit disingenuous. The gesture is a very cognizant choice because it does not come automatically. The direct finger point is the more involuntary gesture, and it’s the one Clinton used in his most “raw” moments as president, including the infamous, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” comment. When the polished politician is overtaken by anger and frustration, that finger straightens out, and the thumb braces rigidly against the remaining three fingers. Really, if you make the gesture right now, you’ll notice that you’re only one thumb tuck away from forming a perfect fist for punching someone’s lights out.


George uses this “barely modified direct finger point” quite often. Usually it follows in exact rhythmic meter with whatever bad bill or policy initiative he is “urging” congress to pass. His hand with the finger pointing will fall with each word he is saying “I… urge… the congress… to pass… this… bill.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a body language expert (of which I am obviously both) to assess the transparent message behind George’s gesture. It’s an unambiguous, “Do what I say to do. Period.” So even though it doesn’t really call for too much analyzation, I will provide my personality trait assessment for the sake of continuity in this exercise. I think this ubiquitous gesture in Bush’s very limited arsenal shows that he is rudimentary, petulant, privileged, cocksure, and myopic. Also, by its very nature, it shows that he has no self awareness or concern about being self aware. After all, what studied and self aware politician would use such an overtly aggressive gesture when trying to win people over? Too easy, I know, but again… continuity.


Hillary’s “all fingers and the thumb on board” open hand gesture is one I’ve seen her use quite a bit during her stump speeches. It has a certain Roman Senator air about it. I think she uses it as a gesture of inclusion and to convey a complete understanding of whatever topic she’s discussing, but in some ways I think it can create a sense of separation from the audience at times. All the fingers and the thumb are united to form a wall between the crowd and herself. It’s not aggressive or confrontational, just a bit controlled and prepared. I think it reveals that HIllary is uncomfortable with spontaneity, has a steady and measured approach to problems, and is very smart. Unlike certain gestures which can be repeated a number of times in a debate or speech, this gesture can border on robotic. It has that “Lost In Space” robot feel after a while.


Obama’s minutely altered version of the George Bush “modified finger point” actually proves that slight adjustments to a gesture can alter the connotation. The difference between Obama’s gesture and Bush’s is the subtle bending of the index finger and angling of it away from the audience. Whereas Bush’s index finger climbs up over the thumb and cranes down upon the audience like a vulture peering over the edge of a cliff, Obama’s gesture merely seems to be emphasizing his point. The gesture conveys to me that he is affable, non-confrontational, thoughtful, relaxed, and confident.

Now, who do you think I’m supporting in this election? Yeah, talk about transparent. I’d love to hear others’ views on the various gestures.

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