The Politics of Good Looks

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In most articles dissecting America’s fascination with Barack Obama, most writers point to Obama’s hopeful rhetoric as the most alluring aspect to his appeal. They say the country has grown weary of its decisive political culture, and that the slender man with the unique name and even more atypical background offers Americans just what they need: something fresh and different. But are people not mentioning another strong factor of his appeal in an effort to maintain political correctness?

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mos Def shared his view on America’s fascination with Barack Obama. He told the magazine that Obama’s appeal points to America’s sense of vanity. He told Anthony DeCurtis: “It’s the A & R guy in me . . . when I saw him on the cover of Men’s Vogue, I said, ‘This guy’s gonna win because he looks good.’ So, the best-looking guy for the job is a black guy. I’m cool with that. People also want a rock-star quality to the president, which he has.”

He may not be the best source for political commentary to most people (for good reason, in some respects), but he’s only pointing out the obvious. Most people don’t like to admit it, but how you present yourself is a factor — particularly in a society obsessed with appearance.

Shortly after announcing his intentions to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, many began to publicly suggest that Bill Richardson was too fat to run for president. Though he never addressed this criticism directly, Richardson’s campaign was largely ignored by the media and the general public. That’s an interesting turn of events considering one of the major themes of this campaign has been centered on experience and the issue over who has it and who doesn’t.

Hillary Clinton’s been long touting her experience on the campaign trail, boasting that her experience has left her tested and ready to deal with our country’s greatest crisis. But when tested on that claim by a reporter from Slate on a conference call, her top advisers sounded stumped. They were asked what foreign policy moment could they point to where Hillary has been tested in a crisis. After a couple of moments of silence, an answer finally came, though it was unrelated to the question.

The truth is while she can lay claims to her “35 years of experience,” her experience in government is relatively thin. She has no executive experience, no cabinet experience, and quiet as its been kept in this race, if you factor in Barack Obama’s time as a state legislator, she doesn’t hold as much experience as an elected a official than the candidate she’s sought to marginalize as too inexperience to serve as president.

Out of all of the candidates who dropped their hat in for the race to be the Democratic nominee, the candidates with the most experience were the ones who exited the race the fastest. Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson all have more experience than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Out of all of the candidates, Bill Richardson was arguably the most qualified.

But, Bill Richardson looks like Fred Flinstone, and unfortunately for him, subconsciously that’s a yabba dabba don’t to many voters.

Another tone-setting theme of this election has been the issue of change. It’s a word that’s typically thrown around in any election, but no one has galvanized such a large movement based on it in recent memory than Barack Obama. His change is based on altering the tone of our political climate, not necessarily a dramatic shift in any significant government policies. He may offer a difference in language and fellowship in public politics, but the majority of his policies mirror Hillary Clinton’s. While Obama can argue that he is more likely to have his policies passed in Congress because of his change in tone, he can’t say that he offers much difference from Hillary Clinton on paper.

Out of all the Democratic candidates, Dennis Kucinich offered the most ‘change’ in terms of policies. Kucinich was the only candidate in favor of a single-payer, not for profit universal health care plan which by and large would cover more Americans than either of the other candidates’ health care plans — at a much lower cost. Kucinich is the most advocate candidate to call for the repeal of the Patriot Act completely, he is in favor of gay marriage, and is for a complete troop withdrawal from Iraq. Unlike most of the candidates who cater to the center, Kucinich has offered very little ambiguous language in terms of his policies.

But Dennis Kucinich looks like Jiminy Cricket, and that made his chances far too short to top the ballot.

Even on the Republican side, before his campaign went down in flames, Mitt Romney was lauded for his ‘good looks.’ Though he was very much a centrist as governor of Massachusetts, he somehow managed to mold himself as the conservative alternative to John McCain. His downfall was his religion, but had he been a Methodist or a Baptist, would he be the one likely to secure the Republican nomination tonight?

To say Barack Obama’s main appeal lies in his smile trivializes the impressive grassroots organization has campaign has built, and negates the real change (however the persuasion) that many Americans long for. But, for a presidential campaign where change and experience have made the deciding factors in who gets the nomination, is it far to ask where would Richardson and Kucinich be if they were as aesthetically pleasing to voters as the two candidates left in the race?

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