Putin's Slouch, Obama's Grimace

How Obama's foreign policy got personal.

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President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Who knew that Barack Obama was such a body language watcher? Foreign policy gets personal.

For me, the most remarkable comment at a formal White House press conference was a personal remark President Obama made about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin's "got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom." This is on top of breaking an upcoming summit date in Moscow. That's not very sporting in my book - a slouch? Come on.

I am not even talking about whether Obama was right or wrong to cancel - young Edward Snowden certainly was a big part of it. But why let the Snowden episode become even larger than it already is?

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

But if we're going to play that game, also noteworthy was the president's body language. Utterly impassive, he stood rigidly tall as an arrow, with a clenched expression on his face. He did not grin once, sending the message that he was doing all this under protest. He used his hands often to punctuate points. His bearing was cold: presidential in a formal way, speaking in defiant staccato. But Americans ideally like to see a little charm and bend in the demeanor of our presidents. Obama is a proud guy and suffers a lot of slings with dignity. But this time, he seemed cut and dried, mad and even as if he was slumming during this exercise. 

Washington has had an unseemly interest in body language of the stars since author Bob Woodward wrote admiringly about George W. Bush's.  Ask me not why. It seemed strange then, and it seems strange now to me, but I just came in off the turnip truck compared to Woodward. 

Speaking of Woodward, the other great Washington institution also had a bad week. The Washington Post was sold by the Graham family to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, for a cool $250 million. Not even as much as Arianna Huffington got when she sold her Post.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

Unbelievable. The beloved Donald Graham told bewildered, grieving employees it was for the best, but it was just the saddest thing you've ever seen. I was not present, but it was like a wake, for the family-owned print newspaper is seriously under siege. People take the Post very seriously in "this town." 

Graham's body language? It was not noted in the Post, but I imagine him as a chief who told the tribe bad news, breaking as bravely as he could. As for Bezos, the master of the Internet wasn't even in the room, but in the other Washington: in Seattle. He was virtually present, and ain't that the way of the world now. The latest form of body language, 21st century cool. Impersonal cool.

Can't wait for more of all that jazz.

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