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.
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.