At the White House Correspondents’ dinner, Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong asked all media attendees to raise their hands and pledge that they would “solemnly swear not to talk about Hillary’s appearance because that is not journalism.” It was a joke but also something more.
It was part of a growing multitude of demands made by Hillary supporters of what is and what is not appropriate to say about their chosen candidate. It also supported the notion that Hillary’s greatest obstacle is that infamous “glass ceiling” of gender bias that has denied a woman the ultimate seat of power in the White House.
Strong’s chastisement was, of course, met with loud and prolonged cheers. Media members and their celebrity guests, the two most appearance-obsessed demographics in the United States (something a follow-up joke by Strong alluded to), cheered the sentiment. The audience consensus was clear — Hillary’s personal appearance was off limits because any such observations were proof of sexist, patriarchal bias.
One might interpret such a notion as a refreshing nod to chivalry, but don’t be fooled. It’s not chivalry that motivates the Hillary-appearance rule. The Left trots out tradition when it suits them only.
President Obama has been lamenting the terrible discrimination towards women in the workforce for years, while his administration exempts disparities in pay between men and women in the White House staff because those disparities exist for “legitimate” reasons, such as different jobs, seniority, time on staff (and the same approach is taken by Congressional Democrats). Conservatives dutifully point out that these same reasons (and a few others) account for the gap elsewhere in the private sector too, but their explanations are drowned out by howls of outrage.
It’s the outrage the Left needs. To paraphrase Harry Reid, the truth doesn’t matter so long as you win. So banning talk regarding Hillary’s appearance isn’t about being a gentleman, it’s about defining opponents: Demand equality, then demand some are more equal than others. Demanding no one reflect on Hillary’s personal appearance is really more accurately described as controlling who is allowed to comment on Hillary’s appearance.
Does anyone believe Democrats will be calling out Chris Matthews for his consistent attacks on Ted Cruz because he “looks like Joe McCarthy”? Is Chris Christie’s weight (and his weight loss) off limits? What about Mike Huckabee? Why does People magazine have a story about Jeb Bush’s weight loss if personal appearance is off limits? Should voters who remember the Nixon-Kennedy televised debate be found and flogged for believing Kennedy won primarily because he looked better on TV?
For that matter, are all the remembrances of the young, princely JFK well-intended but wrong to the core because they base so much of Camelot on the pleasing personal appearance of both JFK and Jacqueline? And what about poor Michael Dukakis and that ridiculous picture in the tank? Was the photo unfair because it led voters to make judgments based on how he looked?
The list goes on. Abraham Lincoln was mocked for how he looked, George Washington was worshipped for his dashing appearance (among other things). Personal appearance matters.
Are all observations of personal appearance fair? Of course not. But life isn’t fair. Taller candidates have an advantage. In theory handsome or beautiful people do too, though mysteriously there is rarely evidence of this in the circles of elected power.
You might have a disadvantage if you’re fat, have a weak chin, or a large nose. Romney had none of these problems and still possesses a personal appearance that has some (me) calling on science to study his genetics so the rest of us can be young forever, yet others declared him too perfect or “plastic” in appearance.
The point is, we make our presidential selections both on solid criteria and subjective qualities that don’t seem to have a lot to do with the job or how well they’d decide on issues like whether enabling the possession of nuclear weapons by populations that riot over cartoons or issue death sentences on novelists is a good idea. We look for people to be “presidential” in bearing, temperament, and tone.
Abraham Lincoln was homely and had a high-pitched voice. Could the greatest president ever be elected in the televised campaigns of today? Probably not, but until we ban television from campaigns, it’s a reality we must accept.
So personal appearance is fair game until it’s not. When critics go over the line, readers and social media will be there, ready to pounce on any physical flaw of the offending pundit — especially of course if the offender is a Republican.
Personally, I prefer to stick as close to the Rahm Emanuel line on issues of personal appearance as possible. Reportedly his mother pressed on him that you don’t make fun of someone’s looks because that’s they way God created them. Observing that they look tired or worn, fine. Making fun of their face or body-type, not so honorable.
I recall my grandfather advising me as a boy that you don’t insult a woman’s looks. Sexist? Maybe. But it’s still good advice.
The truth is that right now, those “Ready for Hillary” are desperate for someone, somewhere to zero in on her personal appearance. She needs the distraction. Because the appearance of impropriety in her foundation’s financial dealings are seemingly all anyone wants to talk about these days. It’s an ugly appearance growing ever more worthy of criticism.