The point is, part of Obama’s cache during his last campaign was his sex appeal — his charm, charisma, youth, and energy. That may have been his only appeal, in fact. But that was clearly enough.
What about Romney? His perceived sex appeal can be determined by the amount of coverage it’s received — which is, by my count, pretty much none. I did find one tidbit from 2002, which seems so long ago in political time, that it’s charming to read now. People magazine, of all places, listed Romney back then as one of the 50 most beautiful people on the scene:
Just don’t tell him he’s arrestingly handsome. “Nothing embarrasses Mitt more than when someone says he’s good-looking,” says Cindy Gillespie, a colleague on the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. Yet now that Romney, 55, who lives in Belmont, Mass., is the GOP candidate for governor of his home state, it’s hard not to notice his blinding smile. Says Olympic skeleton gold medalist Jimmy Shea, 33: “I’d be really excited to look like him when I get to be his age.” Political critics like to paint the 6’2″ Mormon as a too-perfect Ken doll. The son of former Michigan governor George Romney amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune as a venture capitalist at Boston’s Bain Capital and has been married 33 years to his high school sweetheart, Ann, with whom he has five sons. But childhood pal Tom McCaffrey insists that while Romney’s “family looks like a Gap ad, which makes us all a bit cynical,” he is a man of “immense credibility and character — which shows in his face.”
Beyond random message board discussions of Romney’s sex appeal, the verdict seems to be that the former governor of Massachusetts is a sexless organization man with a pretty face.
But this all just goes to show how superficial the definition of manliness has become. One thing that Tina Brown pointed out in her 2008 analysis of Obama’s sex appeal is that it was androgynous. That makes Obama a perfect idol of manliness in our gender-bending time of beta-males and alpha-females. Obama is about as far from the alpha-male ideal as one can get: He is a bookish academic who wrote a lot of “very bad poetry” in his youth (even his politics are poetic, we are told). And he talks a lot. Some would call him a master sophist, defined more by his dazzling rhetoric than by his actions. Is this the new manly? Is this what passes for sex appeal? There’s something very adolescent — dare I say “wimpy” — about the poet-as-president model.
Against the current trends, Romney strikes me as a guy who embodies a more traditional version of manliness that’s absent from the culture today. He may seem boring, but behind that flat facade is a man who has provided for his family, assumed leadership roles in business, devoted himself to his religion, and committed himself to public service. In other words, he is a model of civic virtue, a man of action rather than a man of verbiage (remember Charles Krauthammer’s brilliant column comparing Obama to Hamlet?). Romney is no young Hamlet. He is an adult. Maybe this isn’t sexy, but it represents one prototype of manliness that we could use more of in the United States.