The electorate wildly prefers politicians who look good. That's been a truism in United States races since Richard Nixon's infamous sweaty performance in a televised debate with JFK in 1960. Not that looks weren't important before, but they played far less of a role. America's celebrity fetish, which mushroomed during the last century, only adds to the equation.
Along those lines, it's undeniable that one factor in Barack Obama's victory last year was his smooth demeanor, particularly when contrasted with the aged and seemingly crotchety John McCain. On the reverse side of the political spectrum, I doubt Sarah Palin would garner the same following among men were she comparable to, say, Dianne Feinstein in appearance.
But Americans don't like arrogant schmucks, either. Thus the necessity of combining good looks with an approachable demeanor. Bill Clinton, somehow, managed to pull it off. Barack Obama won't be able to.
Why? Because he's too much of an egoist and lacks the political savvy to muffle it. Sooner or later, the American people will see that. And they won't like it.
Obama's narcissism has enough political implications to catch the POLITICO's attention — even garnering a spot in the publication's top seven stories the president doesn't want told:
It's a common theme of Washington buzz that Obama is over-exposed. He gives interviews on his sports obsessions to ESPN, cracks wise with Leno and Letterman, discusses his fitness with Men's Health, discusses his marriage in a joint interview with first lady Michelle Obama for The New York Times. A photo the other day caught him leaving the White House clutching a copy of GQ featuring himself.
White House aides say making Obama widely available is the right strategy for communicating with Americans in an era of highly fragmented media.
But, as the novelty of a new president wears off, the Obama cult of personality risks coming off as mere vanity unless it is harnessed to tangible achievements.
Obama will increasingly be unable to harness the power of his celebrity appeal because the situation on the ground won't tally with his grandstanding. Afghanistan and the economy are two examples. A nice smile and rhetorical wizardry come off as elitist and smug when causalities are rising and the employment rate is hovering at double digits.