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.