Al Gore's Image
by arlaur, Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 05:53:02 PM EST
In the wake of Al Gore's victory (okay, technically it was Davis Guggenheim's victory, but you get the idea) at the Oscars, I anticipated a wave of positive press about Gore's efforts to raise awareness of global warming. What I didn't anticipate were the numerous comments from the press . . . about Gore's appearance, specifically, his weight.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that Gore cannot run for national office until he drops some pounds, as he did in 2000. In addition to being shocked that this topic would even come up in the wake of the seriousness of An Inconvenient Truth, I was also struck by how those critics (and Democratic consultants, including, not surprisingly, Donna Brazile,) don't have a clue as to how people respond to image in politics.
Let's assume Gore jumps into the race (as I certainly hope he will.) If I were advising him (not that he needs to get into the habit of listening to advisers, as that's a big part of what did him in in '00,) I would tell him not to lose too much weight. Right now, Gore looks avuncular. And, for a Democratic presidential candidate, avuncular is a GOOD THING!!!! Remember how the Rove smear machine was able to portray Kerry and Edwards as effeminate sissies (all those stupid jokes about them being gay because they hugged so much) partially because of their physical presentations? Kerry was slim, overly well-groomed, and was caught on film windsurfing. (The fact that he was from the state that had just legalized gay marriage, and that the Democratic National Convention was held there, to boot, certainly didn't help matters as far as this image was concerned.) The meme of Edwards-the-prettyboy is still alive and well today-- major political web sites and news programs have made reference to the very popular YouTube video that shows Edwards scrutinizing over his hair before going on TV (and whoever posted it on YouTube accompanied it with the theme music "I Feel Pretty.") An overly-attractive, too-well-groomed candidate reinforces the right wing smear machine's portrayal of Democrats as weak, effeminate sissies.
As a counter-example, take a look at the 2006 senate race in Montana. The Repubs ran an ad called "The Brokebank Democrats," simultaneously trotting out the meme of Dems as tax-raisers AND making reference to the film Brokeback Mountain, thereby effectively designating the Democrats as being "gay." Had our candidate been an elegant-looking, wispy intellectual, the smear might've stuck. But one look at flat-topped, big-bellied Jon Tester, and the tired old trick of the Republicans melted away. Nobody could accuse a guy who looked like Tester of effeminacy or wimpiness!
Now, I know that a senate race in one state is not the same as a national election, and that a guy who looked as rough-hewn as Tester couldn't appear on a national ticket. But I hope that Gore maintains something of his avuncular image, rather than slimming back down into prep-school-prettyboy territory. A slight girth, combined with his older-looking visage, will shield him from being the easy target of the same old right-wing stupidity.