Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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When it comes down to it, image counts

by John Halverson

December 22, 2011

Am I the only person who thinks Rick Perry's John Wayne imitation is pretty transparent?

Sure, everyone wants a John Wayne as president. Strong. Decisive. Straight-shooting.

But Perry has taken it to cartoonish extremes. The big shoulders. The high collars (how does he get his head to appear as though it's on the top of a statue?). The third-person posturing — "In a Rick Perry presidency ..."

Maybe he's trying to channel the chin-out force of Teddy Roosevelt. The difference is Teddy could back it up, and you have to wonder whether even his appeal would have worn thin if his face were flashed on TV just about every night.

Of course, I always thought Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bit over the top, but his "strongman" image was for real, and he was successful as a governor ... for awhile.

Actually, I think someone in the image of Spencer Tracy or George C. Scott would be perfect. No one today seems to fit the bill. George Clooney is too good looking and flip, Angelina Jolie too good looking in the wrong way, and Mark Wahlberg is too short and too young-looking. TV actor Fred Thompson had Republicans enamored for a while back in 2008 but he proved to be more style than substance.

Eisenhower, because he was a general, had gravitas — though out-of-uniform his bearing wasn't quite as sturdy. FDR had that self-confident, cigarette holder in the air, air about him. JFK had flair, Truman a bite, Bush II a swagger (remember his fighter-pilot jacket?).

Of course, Ronald Reagan pretty much nailed the "presidential image" image. Some said it was his best role.

Reagan could wear a leather military jacket and get away with it. No one fashionable could wear a brown suit, but he looked confident in it. He was big enough — stocky in a manly way — but not so big that he appeared like he was overweight or posturing. He was tall but not weirdly tall like Abe Lincoln. He was good looking, but not Rock Hudson good looking — which would have been off-putting. The hair never grayed.

Maybe the reason it wore well on him is that Reagan believed himself. That's why he could never quite admit culpability in Iran-Contra, because the Ronald Reagan he knew would never have traded arms for hostages.

Reagan never had the cringe-inducing uncomfortableness of Richard Nixon, who always seemed like he was trying hard to please his mother. Or the calculated pacing of LBJ's southern drawl, when the man was really more comfortable bullying people. Or that overly-bright Carter smile (did it remind anyone else of Alfred E. Newman?). Or the overall, "what's a vision?" demeanor of George the First, whose resume probably qualified him for the presidency better than anyone in modern times.

And what can you say about Bill Clinton? As much as you want to hate him, he continues to flash that good-old-boy charm that has been successful for him in so many, many, ways.

Maybe the image issue is why the GOP is still casting about for a suitable candidate. Mitt's hair is a bit too slick; he's got the height, but appears as flippy-floppy as he acts. Newt is leading now with his Churchill-like professorial turn; though that could eventually wear thin for Republicans who historically decry "East Coast intellectualism." (Woodrow Wilson, who was a real professor, would have never made it in the Republican Party.)

On the Democrat side, Obama's quick, smart, cool exterior seems to have overstayed its welcome. The Democrats who voted for him wish he'd show more passion; Republicans "know" he'll compromise. Coolness is admired when it's Steve McQueen, and only if it shows results. Hillary had to appear to cry before anyone believed she had a soul, and now the revisionist view is that she was really "the one" Democrats should have selected despite her pantsuits. (It's like the backup quarterback who always seems better because we've only seen a glimpse).

Image? We all deny it matters.

But deep down, with most people, it does.

Do we deny we want a president who stirs us with rhetoric? Don't we think image matters when our president approaches a foreign leader, whose culture is equally as steeped in appearance? If image doesn't matter, then why is it a proven fact that tall, good-looking people are more successful (even if it's only "self" confidence it engenders).

Image or policy?

History has proven one is as important as the other. Which one are you going to vote for?

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.