I saw some inappropriate touching at last night's GOP debate. Lets go to the tape:
"Attractive people aren't afraid to make physical contact," Elizabeth Kuhnke writes in Body Language For Dummies."They know the powerful effect an appropriate touch can have. Touching can be used to encourage, to express affection or compassion, and to show support." Hmm, that doesn't sound like what was going on here. Elsewhere Kuhnke writes, "When another person touches you, that person is implying that a bond exists between the two of you. Unless, of course, that person's a politician [italics mine]...." Bingo.
Politicians touch, Kuhnke goes on to say, because they want your vote, but as is evident in this tape it is also a way for them to achieve dominance over other politicians. "Something to remember about touching is it's a hierarchical gesture," Kuhnke advises. "The person who initiates the touch holds the authority. The doctor touches the patient, the teacher touches the student, and the priest," well, never mind what the priest does. The point is that when Romney put his hand on Perry's arm it was not merely to say, "I would like you to stop talking now." It was to say, "I am superior to you and I would like you to stop talking now."
I'm not the sort who ordinarily minds being touched, but I do mind whenever a politician touches me because I know he or she is trying to achieve dominance over me, and that my job as a journalist is not to let that happen. A politician I knew once, in the course of an interview, reached over and straightened my collar, which was crooked. (Like many journalists, I'm a little bit of a slob.) In any other context I would have taken it as a friendly gesture. Here it made me quietly furious, and I struggled afterwards to understand why. The reason, of course, was that coming from the politician it was an act of condescension. It was his way of saying, "You are a child."
I would imagine Perry felt much the same way. Particularly because Perry, even when on the attack against Romney in the debate, still seemed unsteady and inexperienced. Romney's touching him made him seem even more so, which is why it was a brilliant (though possibly unconscious) gesture on Romney's part. It said: "Now hold on just a minute, sonny, while I explain a few things you clearly don't understand." I bet Perry wanted to deck him.