The Medium Is the Whatever


Do I need to point out the importance, for good or for bad, of image in politics? Marshall McLuhan got that ball rolling long ago -- actually, Louis XIV did, but McLuhan did it for the TV age. His analysis made for a good read, though the eventual election of Richard Nixon contradicted him. What does it look like today?  

The race is finally winnowing. Whew! For a while it looked more like a stampede, at least on the Republican side. And since they're all on TV, more than ever what they look like matters. Take Donald Trump. Please. He's tacky as hell but made for TV. His suits, his shiny face, and, above all, his hair, have all those flashing lights they use in game shows. Sure, he doesn't score points with the Downton Abbey crowd, but he wouldn't care to. Nonetheless, it seems his star is no longer on the rise, but that's how stardom works. Flash by definition is ephemeral.

Ben Carson, on the other hand, is muted, though not, perhaps to a likely political death from self-inflicted wounds, mute. Does he look presidential? Oh sure. But image will only get you so far.

Ted Cruz is one ugly dude. Would I want him as a pit bull? Oh yeah. President? As with the aforementioned dog, he will scare my enemies but also my friends. 

Jeb Bush looks just fine, not as stately as his trad dad and more than his brother. He has other problems though. And it looks like he won't make it. 

And Marco Rubio looks like a kid. I'd vote for him for class president. Beyond that, he lacks gravitas.

On the other side, Hillary Clinton still has the field to herself, almost. She's sharp as a tack, and could handle anyone, but. . . what she lacks her husband had, one could argue given his liaisons dangereuses, too much of. Seductive charisma. Charisma helped get Obama elected twice, but he had the good sense to keep the charisma in his pants. And let's face it, a big segment of the electorate doesn't like our President because he's black. And a big segment doesn't like Hillary because . . . she's a woman? Not totally, though that may be at play. Because she just rubs them the wrong way.

Which leaves Bernie Sanders. Ah Bernie. He's not handsome but he's lovable, at least to the young people who idolize him. He's a schlepp, but that's part of his charm. On what passes for political debate on TV but is really infotainment, he's far from great. And if one visualizes him among heads of state, he would be the most disheveled. Does that work today? I don't think so. I may be wrong. Hell, Marshall McLuhan was.

And that's my rundown. Our neighbor Canada has just elected the best looking politico ever. Curious that we who supply the world with standards of image don't do that. Closest we came was JFK and that was long ago. None of our leading candidates comes close. Then I think of the Kardashians; of Trump himself, a bona fide TV star; of our first and only showbiz POTUS, Ronald Reagan, handsome enough but a little heavy on the rouge. Maybe it's a lot more complicated than what I think. And don't tell me it's because substance trumps style. I mean, Ben Carson, Sarah Palin. Really.

In the meantime, the show must go on. And it does.