She’s Ready For Her Close-Up Now


By: Michael M. Bates

Mrs. Clinton recently coughed up $3,000 in campaign funds for a hairstylist and a comparable amount for a makeup artist, according to the New York Post. One can only tremble at what the outcome would have been had she spent, say, only $1,000.

Yeah, that’s a cheap shot. And most assuredly an example of the pot – the one I’ve been lugging around for years – calling the kettle black.

Politicians of all persuasions recognize that image, more than substance, determines their electability. It’s been that way for years and the advent of film and television accelerated the trend.

A decade before being elected president, Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio. Few people knew how seriously it affected him.

The late House speaker Tip O’Neill was a young man when he met Mr. Roosevelt. From O’Neill’s memoirs:

“When I saw the president sitting in a wheelchair, I was so shocked that my chin hit my chest. Like most Americans, I had absolutely no idea that (he) was disabled . . . in those days the president’s handicap was kept secret out of respect for the office.”

Would voters have elected a man in a wheelchair to confront the Great Depression? To wage World War II? That’ll never be known. What we do know is that Mr. Roosevelt and his advisors effectively concealed his disability.

Image was even more significant by 1960. In the first televised presidential debate, John Kennedy showed up looking rested and tanned. Richard Nixon had a staph infection and was exhausted. He’d made a less than prudent pledge to campaign in all 50 states.

Both candidates declined the producer’s offer to have makeup applied. Kennedy then adjourned to his dressing room, where he had an assistant make him up. Quite clearly, Dick wasn’t the only tricky one running for president that year.

Anyway, Nixon opted for Lazy Shave, then available at fine drug stores everywhere, to mask his perpetual five o’clock shadow. The powder melted under the hot studio lights, revealing the candidate’s stubble.

Folks who listened to the debate on radio scored it a draw or, in some instances, thought Nixon won. Those who watched it on TV, the majority of voters, perceived Kennedy as the clear winner.

When Nixon said that prices had held well during the Eisenhower years, JFK replied:

“Well, I would say in the latter, that the – and that’s what I found somewhat unsatisfactory about the figures, Mr. Nixon, that you used in your previous speech. When you talk about the Truman administration, you – Mr. Truman came to office in 1944, and at the end of the war, and the difficulties that were facing the United States during that period of transition, 1946, when price controls were lifted, so it’s rather difficult to use an overall figure of those seven and one-half years and comparing them to the last eight years. I prefer to take the overall percentage of the last 20 years of the Democrats and eight of the Republicans, to show an overall period of growth. . . . So that I don’t think that we have moved . . . with sufficient vigor.”

His gibberish was overlooked. People only remembered that Kennedy looked tanned and rested and gave the impression he knew what he was talking about. And Richard Nixon sweated a lot and looked ill at ease.

“It was TV more than anything else that turned the tide,” said Kennedy a few days after the election. So it has been as the image culture has widened.

Remember the unfortunate (for him) photo of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in a tank? That image of goofiness was one he couldn’t shake.

Then there is Steve Forbes, who has twice sought the Republican presidential nomination. He’s a solid, thoughtful and articulate conservative. Not only that, he’s got buckets of cash. Mr. Forbes is not telegenic, however, and this gravely hurt his chances.

In 2004, John Kerry and running mate John Edwards openly bragged about their tonsorial advantage: “We’ve got a better sense of what’s happening to America – and we’ve got better hair,” crowed Kerry during the campaign.

The Washington Post lent a hand by describing Edwards’ hair as “a beautiful shade of chocolate brown with honey-colored highlights. . . It is boyish hair not because of the style but because it looks so healthy and buoyant and practically cries out to be tousled. . . ” This is from a newspaper that wants to be taken seriously.

Would today’s Americans elect a homely man president? Probably not. Abe Lincoln couldn’t make it through the New Hampshire primary.

It isn’t likely that voters would find an unattractive woman any more appealing. So Mrs. Clinton, whose husband knows his way around cosmetic enhancements judging by his occasional blonder than blonde look, should keep spending as much as needed to look as good as she can.

It isn’t even her money, after all. If supporters want to subsidize her quest, that’s their business.

So please, Mrs. Clinton, don’t skimp on the makeovers. By the way, did you know that pantsuits come in colors other than black?

This column by Michael M. Bates appeared in the July 27, 2006 Oak Lawn Reporter.

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