It's an Election, Not a Beauty Pageant

Article excerpt

Try to imagine the reaction if House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi were constantly referred to as "pretty." The California congresswoman herself would probably be upset - though perhaps not as upset as she would be if she were referred to as "not so pretty." Either way, feminists, politicians, and pundits - and the frightening overlap of the three - would chime the chorus of "sexism."

John Edwards, we are told by fan and foe, is "sexy," "pretty," and "handsome." Even his running mate, John Kerry - himself a rumored slave to beauty - commented that the two of them have "better hair" than their competition. While I don't know about that, I agree that Senator Edwards is pretty. He looks, to me, exactly like 1970s semicelebrity John Davidson. And Senator Kerry looks smitten.

So far, Edwards hasn't been silly enough to whinge about the adjectives thrust upon his fine-looking self. This may be because he knows full well that the received wisdom that says only women are judged by their appearance is not true. Nor has it ever been - not even before TV debate coverage brought us the painful truth about Richard Nixon's sweaty upper lip and Al Gore's bald spot and overly rouged cheeks.

Shortly before he was elected president in 1860, a then free-of- facial-hair Abraham Lincoln received a letter from 11-year-old Grace Bedell suggesting that "if you will let your whiskers grow," she might be able to convince family members to vote for him. All the ladies, she wrote, "like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you." With whiskers, she noted, "you would look a good deal better for your face is so thin." Everyone's a critic. Lincoln obliged and later met Bedell, showing her up close that he was a smart enough politician to know looks can make a difference.

It's true that there's less to discuss vis-a-vis men. …