Friday, August 17, 2012

Please Don't Hate the Pretty People

Monday morning one of my coworkers complained about Ryan being good-looking—not in an envious way, but in frustration with the average voter.  He asserted that (for example) Chris Christie, whose political persona combines all the girth, charm, and gall of Nero Wolfe, could never be picked as a VP: he just isn't attractive enough.  Of course, underdog rooters like my coworker and I might consider this a good thing; but the point stands.

It is unfortunately true that good-looking politicians are better at getting votes than ones who are unattractive.  This tendency may have been exacerbated by the modern American worship of youth and prettiness; but—human nature being what it is—good looks have always advantageous in politics.  Abraham Lincoln grew a beard (on the advice of a eleven-year-old girl) for the sake of improving his appearance.  It helped.

 Before ...

and after.

Alcibiades was supposedly good looking.

The hair, the hair ...

It helped.

Far be it from me to percolate a universal from two data points—the brew would be impotent indeed, and yet oddly hard to swallow—but having offered those two bits of trivia up on the altar of human curiosity, I will simply make the assertion:

Being good looking almost always helps.  It is neither sufficient nor necessary, but it is useful.

It will help Ryan.  Now for the record, Romney could have done better here.  Ryan is not the most attractive person on what was Mitt Romney's presumptive VP list.  (That honor goes to the Junior Senator from Florida.)  But Ryan's record to date suggests a potent combination of cleverness, good looks, rhetorical skill, and composure.  He comes off as more mature and balanced than (for example) Sarah Palin.  (And I am not talking about what her detractors say of her.  Just go onto YouTube, and watch each of them speak for a hour or so.  There is a difference.)  Ryan even comes off as more mature and balanced than (I'll admit it) Rick Santorum. This is not necessarily because Ryan is in reality a more mature and balanced person than Palin and Santorum.  He simply has a different persona.  A different—to delve into the origin of the word—mask.  One that, if he can keep it on, will serve him well in his career.

Ryan's pick was less about his looks than it was about his social conservationism, including to some degree his Catholicism.  Truly.  While Santorum was in the race, Romney was beating him—the Mormon beating the Catholic!—in the Catholic vote.  But the most conservative Catholics—that is, those who care about issues like abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty; those of us who are ultramontane—either joined the evangelicals in supporting Santorum, or went for Ron Paul.  Romney is aware of this.  Patrick Archbold points out that Ryan will not help across the board with the Catholic vote, but only with the most conservative Catholics.  This is not true of the Ron Paul vote: Ryan will be unacceptable to pro-Paul Catholics for many of the same reasons that Santorum was unacceptable to them.  But Archbald is right about the Santorum vote.  The religious and social conservatives who were rightly concerned about Romney's record can now be ... not unconcerned, but less concerned.

A few thoughts—grist which may or may not be milled and kneaded and baked into the next weeks' posts.

(1) Romney made a better VP pick than Dolan made a dinner guest pick.  Ironic.  (No reflection on Dolan, that.  He was and is in a tough position.)
(2) Ryan's bishop, the very conservative Morlino, would like everyone to stop judging Ryan on economic issues. (H/T Fr. Z.)  He makes a very useful distinction between matters that involve intrinsic evil and matters that are prudential.  (My goodness, Bishop Morlino must read my blog!)
(3) Some people are hating on Ryan because of this speech and Q&A.  I don't understand ...
(4) It is puzzling to me that many of the same people who loathe credit cards, Wall Street, and other things that entail or encourage excessive spending, debt, and interest, are simultaneously so opposed to political figures like Ryan who oppose the same sort of spending, debt, and interest when they are encouraged or entailed by the activities of the Federal Government.

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