Monday, September 12, 2011

That Presidential Look: The Bad, the Beautiful and Voting-Booth Realities

Selwyn Duke

While there was more than one reason why John McCain was a long shot to win the 2008 general election, a big one was something almost no one talked seriously about: appearance. That is to say, when was the last time an old-looking, white-haired, half-bald man won the presidency? If you think this piece will be satire or fluff, think again. It rather will be very serious commentary about a very silly -- but painfully real -- phenomenon. When people do discuss looks' impact on presidential fortunes, they usually treat the matter as a joke; we may hear, for instance, how a candidate must have "great hair" to enjoy rarefied commander-in-chief air.

In making these assessments, I don't imply that ideology is insignificant. The point is, however, that just as the wrong politics alienates a certain percentage of voters, so does the wrong appearance. Also note that the latter's significance varies depending on the group in question. Conservative voters are more informed and less likely to operate based on emotion than other Americans, making looks a relatively minor factor in the Republican primaries. But the general election is a different matter. Of course, it's tragic that people are so influenced by superficials, but it's nothing new. It's little different from when a man marries for looks or a woman for money. And the fact is that, unless and until we can get election turnouts down to five percent, having fatally un-presidential looks will doom even a stellar statesman's chances. Don't like it? Talk to the people who think that rallying the idiot vote somehow makes our republic stronger.

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