Friday, December 14, 2007

Survival of the Cutest, or The Difference Between "Gut" and "Smart"

Has anyone done a study of candidate faces and voter appeal? I know we've done the Alpha Male thing, and apparently, judging by the person now in the White House, it's a real thing. (Can you believe it?)

I'm thinking that at least 87% of the animosity directed at Hillary and Al Gore has to do with their faces.

Now wait. Before you go all hooty on me, remember that the nation is as one on the principle that no president shall ever resemble Dennis Kucinich, Ross Perot, or Ron Paul. These things matter in the arcane process of selecting candidates for national orifice--er, office.

Allow me to begin.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Gore has a prissy mouth. To me (and I like Gore; I'm from Tennessee, and before the crust formed on the earth, I worked for his father's re-election, much to my Republican father's outrage), to me, Gore's face looks most appallingly, regrettably Victorian in a particularly parsonish kind of way. The long, thin nose points inexorably to the thin, parsimonious lips, and I recoil, expecting Rector Gore's long, thin fingers to whip out the table of contents of my own personal book of sins. We don't have time for that.

Whether he's actually like Vicar Gore doesn't matter. I suspect he isn't like that at all, or he'd never have been elected to public office, by Democrats, at least, in the first place.

What matters is what we think we see there. His odd vocal cadence, nasal tonality, arching eyebrows, and, oh yeah, formidable intellect, move him even farther from our reach. Gore looks the patrician part, has the heritage, the wealth, and the access, and by all logic ought to be a Repubican. That he is not perhaps sets up an irreconcilable dissonance between who he is and the values he espouses. Indeed, if Gore had those values, if Gore were a Rightwing Republican, with all that those sad words imply, he'd probably have a marble monument on the Mall.

All this, then, makes for essentially the same set of questions that besets Hillary, except that she has the added complication of being female. If there's anything we hate more than persnickety, withhholding Protestant parsons, it's Women Like Hillary. We just know that she eats mountain oysters for breakfast.

Let me own now that, despite my unassailable standards for good judgment and rationality (hork!), I, too, am vulnerable to these perceptions. Consequently, I don't particularly LIKE either Gore or Hillary as individuals, though I do love Gore's policy constellation and respect his intellectual powers and intellectual integrity enormously, with a caveat related to his about-face on choice. Also, I like most of what Hillary stands for, if not her penchant for obviously playing it safe. I hate that.

That said, there's something about Hillary's face that also inspires less than affection. Eyes, cheeks, and mouth, I think. Come on, admit it. She looks like she's got something up her sleeve, like she's oozing sarcasm. I don't really believe she is. Everyone who's met her says she's very nice, and if she were as sarcastic and nasty as, say, Mean Jean, I don't think Democrats would like or elect or respect her as they do.

Again, it's what her face seems to say. Those cheeks invoke Pinnocchio. They conspire with that mouth to suggest that just possibly, her nose is growing, and in any case, if we knew the half of what she knows. . . . Only, who likes to feel left out of the joke? On this score alone, you just know that Hillary is the beneficiary of 300 million unresolved high school vendettas.

But there is the tedious fact that after $80 million or so, the Republicans were never able to turn up a damn thing on Hill and Bill. When she says she's been vetted, baby, she means vetted. We're not talking Skull and Bones here.
So maybe there's no joke at all.

Still, this isn't rational stuff. This is pure gut. And the one thing Bush has contributed to American political discourse is that there is a huge difference between gut and smart.

I know where we wouldn't be if Gore had been sworn in, as he should have been. We wouldn't be up to our eyeballs in Iraq, in debt, in spies, and inflation.

Maybe we ought to reconsider how we respond to Hillary and Al. This ain't a beauty contest.