That Presidential Look

One of the biggest challenges facing someone running for the office of President of the United States is looking “presidential.” It’s often tough to imagine a person in that role until you actually see him there. However, in my opinion, not even all presidents look presidential. I was struck by that the other day when Bill Clinton stood beside Barack Obama urging Democrats to pass the tax compromise. It seemed to me that only one of the two really looked presidential, and it wasn’t the current Chief Executive. Regardless of party or politics, the office seems to minimize some men and maximize others, and that contrast was on stark display at the White House this past week.

Jimmy Carter was another man who never seemed presidential to me. I always felt as if he had accidentally stumbled onto a set of Oval Office keys and planned to stay there as long as he could get away with it. When Ronald Reagan ran against him in 1980, it was the challenger who looked presidential.

As good a man as he was, I never felt Gerald Ford exuded that presidential aura. Maybe that’s because he was never elected, or maybe it was because one of our most athletic presidents had been parodied as a clumsy oaf. George W. Bush may not have sounded presidential, but he looked comfortable in the office.

In my adult lifetime, some of those who ran for the presidency and lost had the right look, and some simply didn’t. I could never imagine Michael Dukakis in that role, nor Walter Mondale nor Bob Dole nor Al Gore nor John Kerry. However, I could see John McCain or Hubert Humphrey.

It’s all very subjective, I know, and it’s hard not to be blinded by politics. In fact, I’m not exactly sure what it means to say that someone looks presidential. But, like a lot of subjective matters, it becomes obvious when you see it. And it seemed obvious to me the other day that one president reveled in the office while the other chafed.

  1. outstripp

    I think Obama’s coolness helped him a lot during the presidential campaign.  He lacked experience but he seemed to have an evenness of temper that suggested he could take the pressure of the Oval Office.  However, his performance in that recent press conference made him look tired.  He even looks pale, which is a good trick for an African-American.

  2. She
    Funeral Guy: Mitt Romney-Central casting president. But to me he looks like the guy on the Grecian Formula box.  Almost too perfect. And the first name is awful. Like being named Skippy.

    Sarah Palin-You’ve got to be kidding. (Ducking to avoid flying vegetables.)  Hot? You betcha’!  But America is not ready for a hot female president. (Ducking to avoid more flying vegetables) 

    Mike Huckabee-I can see it, I just can’t say it.  President Huckabee?  Is that a cartoon character? 

    Newt Gingrich-Surprisingly yes.  With the baggage?  Unelectable, I’m afraid.  

    Mike Pence-Reminds me a little of John Forsythe.  (Remember Dynasty?) Presidential. Really works the youthful silver hair thing. 

    Mitch Daniels-Definitely. In a Calvin Coolidge sort of way.  At this point I’m looking for a boring president with a work ethic that won’t be on TV every ten minutes. 

    President “Newt:” Go.  President “Mitt:” No Go.

    Not sure about that.

  3. Funeral Guy
    She

    Funeral Guy: Mitt Romney-Central casting president. But to me he looks like the guy on the Grecian Formula box.  Almost too perfect. And the first name is awful. Like being named Skippy.

    Sarah Palin-You’ve got to be kidding. (Ducking to avoid flying vegetables.)  Hot? You betcha’!  But America is not ready for a hot female president. (Ducking to avoid more flying vegetables) 

    Mike Huckabee-I can see it, I just can’t say it.  President Huckabee?  Is that a cartoon character? 

    Newt Gingrich-Surprisingly yes.  With the baggage?  Unelectable, I’m afraid.  

    Mike Pence-Reminds me a little of John Forsythe.  (Remember Dynasty?) Presidential. Really works the youthful silver hair thing. 

    Mitch Daniels-Definitely. In a Calvin Coolidge sort of way.  At this point I’m looking for a boring president with a work ethic that won’t be on TV every ten minutes. 

    President “Newt:” Go.  President “Mitt:” No Go.

    Not sure about that. · Dec 12 at 6:46am

    That thought struck me right as I was hitting the send button.  I’m thinking that since Gingrich has been on the public stage so long I’ve internalized the dopey name. 

  4. Dan Holmes
    Starve the Beast:  

     He’s like a king who can’t order people’s heads cut off when they annoy him, and he can’ think of any other way to react to them. . Dec 11 at 9:23pm

    Good one.

    Funeral Guy  Mitch Daniels-Definitely. In a Calvin Coolidge sort of way.  At this point I’m looking for a boring president with a work ethic that won’t be on TV every ten minutes.  · Dec 11 at 10:27pm

    This one has assured interviewers he’s not running.  Of course, he could always change his mind, you never know.

    Looks too much like Putin to me, anyway.

    I can’t think of anyone that could take Obama when O is in his campaign mode.  Wait wait wait–How about Pat Sajak?

  5. Troy Senik, Ed.
    C

    Pat’s right to note the importance of the ineffable qualities that go a long way toward defining the mystical quality of “being presidential.” While I agree with his assessment of Obama, I have to say that this comes as a bit of surprise. I can’t think of a candidate in recent history who seemed so preternaturally inclined towards the trappings of the office during his campaign (anyone else remember the short-lived psuedo-presidential seal, complete with Latin inscription, from the campaign days?). It always seemed like the trappings of pedestrian life were an inconvenience for a man born with lungs that could only breathe the rarefied air of high office.

    The passage of time, however, has shown Obama to be a president who is not nearly as comfortable with the substance of office as with the superficial pomp. Best example? Take a look at the POTUS in the presidential bomber jacket during his trip to Afghanistan last week. It looked like a man who had been miscast as Commander-in-Chief in a community theater production.

  6. Kenneth

    The man is so foreign to American customs that he has no idea how much he demeans the office.  But the Secret Service understands:

    http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/7/2010/07/500x_obamasandal1.jpg

  7. Pat Sajak
    C
    Dan Holmes

    I can’t think of anyone that could take Obama when O is in his campaign mode.  Wait wait wait–How about Pat Sajak? · Dec 12 at 7:55am

    Let me give that some thought…

    OK. I’m ready. No.

  8. Eeyore

    In other political seasons, the question has arisen “Does he have the gravitas?”

    Maybe that’s part of it. Sorta like if Vladimir Putin were to walk up to any of the aforementioned Commanders-in-Chief or potential Cs-in-C and say “Hey, punk, whatcha got?!”

    Imagine the emotional reaction you’d anticipate each having. 

  9. Stuart Creque
    Pat Sajak: And it seemed obvious to me the other day that one president reveled in the office while the other chafed. ·

    Could it also have something to do with the fact that the incumbent has shown such a strong allergy to doing the work of the office?  We like to joke about his love of the golf links and the basketball court, his frequent date nights and vacations and overseas jaunts — but this week we’ve been treated to his flashes of anger and irritation at having to do actual political work on behalf of the nation.

    The capper, of course, was watching him literally walk off the job out of fear of the wrath of the First Lady.  Obama may have wanted to look Clintonesque by taking a position between his party’s and the opposition’s — but by leaving Clinton in charge of a press conference, he didn’t look like Clinton, he looked like someone abdicating the responsibilities of his office to Clinton.

    Those of us who saw him as un-Presidential in 2008 have been vindicated.  The Democrats who promised he was going to be the best President ever have been exposed as fools.

  10. Kennedy Smith

     Indeed, Troy, as leaks from Dem caucus meetings prove, Obama is eminently effable.

  11. Stuart Creque
    eeyore: In other political seasons, the question has arisen “Does he have the gravitas?”  · Dec 11 at 8:56pm

    See, when they asked about W’s gravitas, he pointed to Dick Cheney as his ballast, keel and rudder to keep him on a steady course.  And in office, W delegated actual power and responsibility to Cheney, and the gravitas gambit thus worked well.

    So well, in fact, that when the same questions arose about Obama, he picked good ol’ reliable Joe Biden to lend his ticket gravitas.  And the voters bought it, because Cheney had worked out for W.

    Obama is no W and Biden is no Cheney.Tto torture the metaphor, instead of ballast and keel and rudder, Biden is an untied spinnaker luffing in the breeze.

  12. Starve the Beast

    Obama’s presentation strikes me as more royal than presidential.

    He has the right appearance for the job – good looking, wonderful resonant voice, trim muscular figure, tall, has all his hair – but he has a haughty demeanor and he always sounds like he’s speaking down to his audience. His early gaffes all seemed to be of the ‘bitter clinger’ variety, and that awful folksy voice he sometimes affects has a trying-too-hard feel.

    And as his presidency does a Hindenburg, he’s coming off as thin-skinned and brittle. He’s like a king who can’t order people’s heads cut off when they annoy him, and he can’ think of any other way to react to them.

    He really does feel less like a competent senior executive than like Louis XVI talking to some smelly peasants. Or maybe like a tenured political science professor talking to a classroom full of undergrads, not that there’s much difference.

  13. Stuart Creque

    We need you, Pat! (Trebek was born in Canada, so he’s ineligible.) Sajak/White 2012 – has a nice ring to it.

  14. Paul DeRocco

    Obama is definitely an alpha male, and he seems comfortable taking the dominant position in any group. It’s quite visible when he’s surrounded by other world leaders. However, I wouldn’t say that he’s exactly “presidential”. He really strikes me as a classic BMOC.

    The thing that most struck me about Clinton, in his joint press conference with Obama, is that he’s become pinker than Tip O’Neill. I thought my TV needed readjustment.

  15. Stuart Creque
    Paul DeRocco: Obama is definitely an alpha male, and he seems comfortable taking the dominant position in any group. It’s quite visible when he’s surrounded by other world leaders. However, I wouldn’t say that he’s exactly “presidential”. He really strikes me as a classic BMOC. · Dec 11 at 10:16pm

    Compare Obama to Clinton.  Clinton is the alpha male, the silverback of the troop.  Obama is the posturing juvenile, attempting to seem like the alpha but revealing in his lapses and gaffes how far from the apex of the troop he still is.  Even though we installed him in the top slot, when it came time for him to lead, he had to defer to the silverback.  Pure beta male performance in the clutch.

  16. Funeral Guy

    Interesting topic, Pat.  I’ll join the consensus that Obama fails the “presidential” test. That’s an easy one. So what about the ’12 hopefuls?  On our side, of course, the dems are stuck with The Bamster to their ever increasing chagrin.

    Mitt Romney-Central casting president. But to me he looks like the guy on the Grecian Formula box.  Almost too perfect. And the first name is awful. Like being named Skippy.

    Sarah Palin-You’ve got to be kidding. (Ducking to avoid flying vegetables.)  Hot? You betcha’!  But America is not ready for a hot female president. (Ducking to avoid more flying vegetables) 

    Mike Huckabee-I can see it, I just can’t say it.  President Huckabee?  Is that a cartoon character? 

    Newt Gingrich-Surprisingly yes.  With the baggage?  Unelectable, I’m afraid.  

    Mike Pence-Reminds me a little of John Forsythe.  (Remember Dynasty?) Presidential. Really works the youthful silver hair thing. 

    Mitch Daniels-Definitely. In a Calvin Coolidge sort of way.  At this point I’m looking for a boring president with a work ethic that won’t be on TV every ten minutes. 

    Lower tier than this, who knows at this point?

  17. Jeff S.

    Obama an alpha male? Just ask Caesar.

  18. Craig McLaughlin

    I never thought Clinton looked Presidential until I saw him standing next to Obama.

  19. Paul DeRocco
    Stuart Creque

    Paul DeRocco: Obama is definitely an alpha male, and he seems comfortable taking the dominant position in any group. It’s quite visible when he’s surrounded by other world leaders. However, I wouldn’t say that he’s exactly “presidential”. He really strikes me as a classic BMOC. · Dec 11 at 10:16pm

    Compare Obama to Clinton.  Clinton is the alpha male, the silverback of the troop.  Obama is the posturing juvenile, attempting to seem like the alpha but revealing in his lapses and gaffes how far from the apex of the troop he still is.  Even though we installed him in the top slot, when it came time for him to lead, he had to defer to the silverback.  Pure beta male performance in the clutch.

    You don’t have to be competent to be alpha. It’s just a style, and stylistically, he’s got it. Substantively, he’s a fraud, even compared to Clinton, whose alpha-maleness was also weighted on the stylistic side.

  20. Kervinlee
    Stuart Creque

    Pat Sajak: And it seemed obvious to me the other day that one president reveled in the office while the other chafed. ·

    The capper, of course, was watching him literally walk off the job out of fear of the wrath of the First Lady.  Obama may have wanted to look Clintonesque by taking a position between his party’s and the opposition’s — but by leaving Clinton in charge of a press conference, he didn’t look like Clinton, he looked like someone abdicating the responsibilities of his office to Clinton.

    I don’t think there has ever been anything in presidential history to match the appalling spectacle of what we saw at that press conference. To my small mind, this is a really big deal, and will prove to be more damaging to the administration in the long run than it seems now, and will come back to haunt Mr. Obama in very significant ways beyond his re-election chances.

    This is a really bad sign.

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