Today Jacob Weisberg coined what I think should become a representative catchphrase of the 2012 US election along the lines of, “It’s the economy, stupid”and “It’s morning in America”. To wit: he noted that Mitt Romney suffers from “the affliction of excessive handsomeness.”
Who knew there was such a problem? And who knew it was a problem for Mitt Romney, who won the Florida primary this week and is expected by many to be the Republican nominee?
Yet such is the reality, it seems, of 21st century, recession-ridden America. After all, if you were going to draw a cartoon presidential candidate, he would look like Romney: tall, with thick hair and a square jaw. Introducing… Super-Pac Man!
And therein lies the rub, as Mr Weisberg points out. In my opinion, Romney looks too good to be real. It makes people think he has had it easy in life because of all those research reports saying attractive people are more successful. It makes them think maybe he has suspect values. It makes them wonder if something is going on behind the façade.
(On the other hand, as has been well documented, looking worn down by life or so stressed you have lost your hair is no good either.)
There’s a lot of talk about how men have it easier than women because they are allowed to look wrinkled and grey and have bags under their eyes (see, for example, my colleague Lucy Kellaway’s advice column) while women have to resort to all sorts of medical and cosmetic subterfuge to look youthful, but it appears these days politics — at least presidential politics — may be an exception to this rule.
After all, thus far in the Republican campaign the wives — Callista Gingrich, Ann Romney, Karen Santorum — have been left pretty much alone, while the husbands’ hair and vests and bad jeans have been put under close scrutiny, blamed and celebrated (yes, mea culpa) in equal measure.
Things may change during the general election when Michelle Obama takes centre stage and acts as counter-weight to the Republican wife (whomever she will be), but if Mr Romney does get the nomination, I don’t think the handsomeness issue is going away.
In other words, among all the other fine lines one has to walk and all the balancing acts one has to perfect in order to run for public office, there is a new one: appearing Just Attractive Enough. I feel a new niche consultancy coming on.
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