Never mind the speeches... what does penmanship say about Vermont's top pols?
Does Jim Douglas have suicidal tendencies?
Is Doug Racine a dictator in the making?
Is Con Hogan a pathological liar?
One would hope that Vermont's next governor exhibits none of these characteristics. Even if he did, we'd never know from the campaign speeches or commercials. While political candidates spend most of their time telling us where they stand on various issues, they also take great care to play up their integrity, leadership and intelligence. Flaws must be hidden. Just ask Bill Clinton about the political impact of a character defect.
So how are we voters to read between the lines and separate the champs from the chumps? The writing is on the wall -- well, almost. Consider graphoanalysis, a.k.a. the study of handwriting. Since the Roman Empire, humans have been considering how penmanship might reveal character traits. Even Sigmund Freud observed, "There is no doubt that men also express their characteristics through their handwriting."
This is not as woo-woo as it sounds. Graphoanalysis is used by law-enforcement officials, human-resource departments, teachers, social workers and other professionals to better understand personalities and preferences. A New York Times article this week discusses the long debate about use of handwriting analysis in the courts, and a brand-new, comprehensive study that confirms everyone's handwriting is indeed unique. It was the Bruno Hauptmann trial in the 1935 Lindbergh baby kidnapping case that elevated handwriting analysis to the level of fingerprints; Hauptmann was convicted in part on the testimony of experts who determined he had written the ransom notes.
Identifying penmanship is one thing; suggesting that the way you make your p's and q's reveals personal traits is another. But graphoanalysis is even used in some quarters as an aid in diagnosing a patient's physical and mental condition. After all, handwriting is known by analysts as "brain writing" -- the subconscious expression of one's mind.
Stephen and Carol Jennings of Morrisville, Vermont, first became fascinated with the field after reading an article about it in Biography magazine two years ago. They began to dig deeper and were continually intrigued by what they found. "The first thing you do is analyze yourself," says Stephen. "And you're like, 'Wow, that's how I really am.'"
Now the two are members of the Massachusetts Chapter of the International Graphoanalysis Society -- there is no chapter in Vermont. When Seven Days asked them to take a look at the handwriting samples of Vermont's candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, they enthusiastically agreed. "And we're not political people," Stephen assured. "I don't know these guys from a hole in the wall."
The couple also confirmed their analyses with mentor Bonnie Lee Nugent, a certified document examiner for the court who has been in the field more than 20 years. Carol and Stephen aspire to decifering handwriting for a living, as Nugent does. "We're students but we work on it every day," says Stephen, whose license plate reads 'WRITE ON."
In their studies, the couple have discovered a world of cursive complexity. For example, about 40 characteristics are revealed simply in the crossing of a t. A "slashed" t reveals sarcasm, while "dumbbells" -- a crossed t with deliberative dots at each end -- suggest someone more likely to commit a violent act. Some of the best examples in handwriting analysis are found with famous people like O.J. Simpson, whose temper and emotional nature are right there on the paper. Jack the Ripper's handwriting was muddy, inconsistent and just plain scary-looking.
Stephen, who works part-time for a ski shop, swears his boss' signature resembles a ski slope. "If you see a really big healthy loop in a g or y, you can assume the person has a normal physical or sexual life," he offers. Here's further evidence that writing is determined by our gray matter: Carol and Stephen offer the case of a friend with a brain injury who can no longer get her top loop closed in making an l or g or h in cursive. We are, apparently, what we write.
Carol stresses that it's not any one letter that helps her reach a conclusion, but rather a consistent pattern. "You have to see it at least three different places in three different ways before you make a judgment," she says. It's also important to know that the identification of a characteristic does not necessarily predict actual behavior. As an example, unchecked passion can be a negative. But combined with diplomacy and intelligence, it can be a powerful, positive trait.
Speaking of positive, the graphoanalysis code of ethics says that handwriting reports should be helpful, even altruistic. Stephen and Carol attend a number of workshops through their affiliation with the graphoanalysis society and see this intention in action. "You meet a lot of people who can tell you that you're an axe murderer, and do it in a nice way," Stephen says with a laugh.
And what better subjects for a handwriting investigation than Vermont politicians? All of whose hands revealed, not surprisingly, healthy egos, Stephen reports. Seven Days gave the six men two weeks to accomplish a fairly simple task: writing two pages on their teenage years. They were asked to use blank paper and sign their names at the end. Only one candidate -- Con Hogan -- followed all the directions precisely, but eventually five of the six got the job done. Brian Dubie, Republican candidate for governor, chose not to participate, so you'll have to draw your own conclusions about that.
Before the analysis even began, it was clear we were looking at five very different men. Jim Douglas wrote -- printed, actually -- entirely in blocky capital letters. "When people print they don't want you to know about them," suggests Stephen. Douglas also started his essay confidently, with the phrase, "I WAS PRESIDENT OF MY SENIOR CLASS IN HIGH SCHOOL." He then went on to tell a story in which he exhibited leadership, made a bold decision, saved the day and made everyone happy.
Doug Racine told how he used a family connection to attend an Ivy League school, leading to other successes. Con Hogan took the romantic approach, waxing poetic about days spent on the New Jersey shore, and he displayed the most flamboyant handwriting in this pack.
Peter Shumlin admitted that he used to shoot rats, but found saving the environment to be a more fulfilling vocation. Anthony Pollina offered the most dramatic tale, mixing together assassinations, rock 'n' roll and "dark and deserted streets."
Gripping stuff. If politics doesn't work out for these gentlemen, perhaps they can find success as novelists.
Now, on to the graphoanalysis, with comments courtesy of Carol and Stephen. Whether or not you take this seriously, it's at least entertaining. One caveat: No voter should make a decision based exclusively upon how a candidate crosses his t's. Not unless you see those dumbbells.