Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Coolness Factor

There's a lot of talk lately about whether Obama's looks should matter in the race for the Presidency, much of it prompted by this AP photo.

John Althouse Cohen:

"...The coolness factor matters. Coolness, likability, charisma, and even sex appeal are legitimate reasons to vote for someone for president. A candidate who's more personally appealing will be more likely to hold onto popularity as president, which will tend to make them more effective at enacting their agenda. If the president is more appealing for admittedly superficial reasons, that should apply abroad too, and we should want the world to have a positive attitude toward us (all other things being equal). Whether the president is liked by a lot of people matters, and someone who's suave and attractive has an advantage when it comes to being well-liked. We're not supposed to admit that this does matter. We're supposed to believe that "what the voters really care about are the issues." And so while the pundits are willing to analyze relatively clear-cut demographic factors (race, gender, age), you rarely hear them talk about the more nebulous quality of attractiveness, even when it's obviously important..."

Read the whole piece (link above). I tend to agree with Cohen; it seems obvious that a good portion of President Bush's unpopularity is the result of his inability to cut a fine public figure. If the President comes across as inarticulate and somewhat bumbling, then that must be how he really is, right? Supporters of the President, no doubt, would argue that the media and entertainment worlds are at fault for relentlessly focusing on what are nothing more than meaningless, trivial gaffes. But it's hard to argue the point that the President has given his detractors a lot of material to work with.

And sure, we all know it shouldn't matter, and that there was a time when it didn't. But we don't live in those times, and if it now matters in all other walks of life (and can anyone argue that it doesn't?), then why should the presidency be any different?