Conor Lamb LOOKS Right…and Left

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Conor Lamb LOOKS Right…And Left on Thursday, March 15, 2018.

The adage “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do” was borne out again in this week’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. Democrat Conor Lamb pulled out a razor-thin victory in a traditionally Republican stronghold that Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016.

Much of Mr. Lamb’s success can be attributed to his political platform that he very carefully tailored to his constituency (a good idea for any communicator) even if it meant departing from the Democratic Party platform—especially on the hotly-contested issue of gun control.

But even more of Lamb’s appeal can be credited to his movie-star appearance. Influential Pittsburgh reporter Salena Zito wrote that when “you look like you just walked out of an Orvis catalog, you are going to connect with voters on both sides of the aisle.”

The 33-year-old ex-marine, who looks as if he is still on active duty, presented a sharp contrast with his 60-year-old opponent Rick Saccone. The Republican-leaning Washington Examiner described Saccone as “the jovial GOP grandpa,” and bemoaned his loss, quoting a Pennsylvania-based Republican strategist’s comment on Saccone’s mustache,“It’s a porn stache!”

Conor Lamb, like every U.S. President after William Howard Taft (1909-1913) is clean-shaven. In the same vein, Conor Lamb, like every U.S. President elected after Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) has a full head of hair. (Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford did have receding hairlines, but they took office as replacements.)

Ever since Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards’ infamous $1250 haircut, hair stylists—along with wardrobe consultants and countless other grooming specialists—have become a necessary evil in public life. But the larger point here goes far beyond grooming to the whole visual image: body language, gestures, and posture.

In a prior Forbes blog, I wrote:

James Fallows, the veteran political correspondent of The Atlantic, fully appreciates the power of visual imagery. In anticipation of the debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012, Mr. Fallows wrote, “the easiest way to judge ‘victory’ in many debates is to watch with the sound turned off.”

He repeated this idea in anticipation of the first presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, writing, “The most accurate way to predict reaction to a debate is to watch it with the sound turned off.”

In this video-intensive day and age, Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 axiom, “The Medium is the Message” (the actual title of his iconic book is “The Medium is the Massage”) is as important as ever, but now, more than ever, so are the messenger’s optics.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Conor Lamb LOOKS Right…And Left on Thursday, March 15, 2018.