“Hollywood for slightly above-average-looking people”

The New York Times has a bizarre fluff article about Paul Ryan’s fashion sense.  This isn’t really my area of expertise–he wears dark suits, like every other male politician–but the article does raise a lot of interesting questions about attractiveness and its relevance to politics.

I think that politicians in general are better looking now than they were before the advent of television and high-quality photographs.  You can’t go around looking like  Martin Van Buren and expect to be President anymore.

Martin Van Buren (Image via Wikipedia.)

Admittedly, not everyone in politics nowadays is pin-up material.  Actually, even people like Ryan, Obama, Palin and all the other supposedly attractive pols are just slightly above-average-looking people.  None of them would turn heads on the street.  But by the standards of the political arena, they look like movie stars.  I suspect this is because to be a major figure in politics, you usually have to be fairly old and spend a lot of time sitting around indoors.  This lifestyle isn’t conducive to getting on People magazine’s “Most Beautiful” list.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two consecutive Republican Vice-Presidential nominees have been relatively young and physically fit people.  They know how much looks matter in politics.  The NYT article referenced above makes it sound like only the Republicans do this, however.  Not true.  Why, the Democrats were perhaps the first beneficiaries of the attractiveness bias, in that it provided JFK the critical edge he needed in a close race against the haggard-looking Richard Nixon.

It’s not the same thing as the “charisma” that I write about so much–both Romney and Ryan are good-looking, but not at all charismatic–but it’s related.  And if you can’t get a charismatic politician to run for your side, getting a nice-looking one is probably the next best thing.

It’s been said that “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people”.  Well, now it’s coming to be Hollywood for slightly above-average looking people.  Eventually, political strategists will decide the best thing to do is put forth incredibly telegenic puppet candidates, and having the real nitty-gritty work of running the country done behind the scenes by people who look like Karl Rove or James Carville.  Or maybe that’s already going on.

8 Comments

        1. No, but I know what you mean. I think if the Governator had ever seriously tried to become a Presidential candidate–which he couldn’t due to the “Natural Born Citizen” rule–that would have come back to haunt him.

          There are some states, like California and especially Minnesota, who are willing to elect offbeat candidates, but it would be hard to get enough of the country as a whole to do that.

          But I could be wrong; social mores change, and people may become a lot more liberal in their views, in turn paving the way for candidates from show business not being hampered by their past behavior.

          President Gaga in 2030?

  1. Not just good looking, that didn’t do it for Palin. Good looking and able to deliver a rousing speech. JFK and Clinton were great public speakers. Obama is too college professor for most people, but was a hell of a lot better than McCain. Reagan didn’t have much between the ears, but good looks and snappy delivery got him 8 years and sainthood.

    1. You make a good point about speaking ability. Obama’s style is dry, but he has a fairly good voice. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, had a very nasal voice and McCain had a high, whiny kind of voice that was hard to listen to. Palin’s accent didn’t bother me that much; but I know a lot of people, even conservatives, who couldn’t stand the way she sounded.

  2. By the way, Dan, I don’t know why I can’t make any more direct replies to your comment. Maybe that’s a setting I can change. Or maybe it’s just one of those things, like why it drops the “s” from “mysterious”.

    UPDATE: Ah-ha! Figured it out!

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