Much has been made in the media about Mitt Romney's handsome looks.
In a recent appearance on 'Late Night With David Letterman,' Republican Presidential challenger Rick Perry (jokingly) said one of the reasons for his poor performance in a recent televised debate was because he couldn't concentrate with Romney smiling at him.
That is one handsome dude! Perry declared.
The actor Clint Eastwood, a die-hard Republican, also disparagingly commented that Romney looks like what a President should - that is, if one were making a movie and wanted to cast someone to play the President, they should hire Romney.
Romney, who is tall, blessed with classical good looks and a full head of hair, may indeed become the Republican Presidential nominee and win election to the White House in 2012.
A victory by Romney would most likely happen because Barack Obama has largely failed to stimulate the economy and create enough jobs.
And, let's face it, Romney's looks don't hurt.
I recently wrote an editorial in which I surmised that, increasingly, political leaders and corporate executives are hired or elected primarily as faces - that is, rather than being statesmen or brilliant businessmen, they are chosen as a public relations front for whatever entity they represent.
I noted how the recent Eurozone summits in Brussels, Belgium and Cannes, France seemed to resemble glamorous Hollywood film premieres rather than some dull, dry meeting of eggheads.
In this age of 24-hour-a-day cable news and omnipresent internet, image is extremely - perhaps tragically -- important.
But it's not just the United States and Europe.
Consider the case of Pakistan. The Prime Minister of that country is a man named Yousuf Raza Gilani, a supremely handsome man.
Although Gilani came from an influential political family and rose quickly through the ranks of the ruling Pakistan Peoples' Party (which he joined in 1988), he seems to have few real qualifications for such an important, high-profile job -- except for the fact that he looks very good and provides a good face for Pakistan throughout the world.
Indeed, Gilani's principal responsibility seems to be visiting foreign countries, smiling at the cameras, shaking hands with dignitaries and making canned speeches that have little or no substance -- before racing back to Pakistan and preparing for his next overseas jaunt.
Thus, he's more like a senior public relations figure than a genuine leader.
Pakistan is a chaotic and ungovernable nation that seems to be in a permanent condition of self-implosion - perhaps what the Islamabad government desires most is to have an attractive and placid representative like Gilani to assure the rest of the world that everything is fine in the country (or at least, things are under control and not to worry).
Gilani does this very well. He always looks sharp and elegant -- like a Bollywood leading man rather than a true leader committed to tackling the extremely serious problems that Pakistan faces.
Perhaps the Bollywood imagery is particularly relevant.
For the teeming masses of poverty-stricken people in India (as well as Pakistan and elsewhere), the commercial movies produced by Bollywood have provided a fantasy world escape from the grim reality of their lives. Handsome heroes, beautiful (virginal) heroines and, of course, lots of singing and dancing, and, always a happy and satisfying ending.
Most of these films are absurdly unrealistic and completely ignore such dismal South Asian realities as poverty, disease, social exclusion, repression, police brutality, overpopulation, discrimination, etc.. But that's exactly what the people wanted -- and Bollywood provided that 'escape' better than anyone.
In this sense, Gilani is just like a Bollywood superstar - if he sang and danced in public the metaphor would be complete.
But it's not just the men.
Take a gaze at the new foreign minister of Pakistan.
Hina Rabbani Khar, at 34, is the youngest foreign minister in the country's history and one of the youngest ministers ever in Pakistan. Very comely and stylish, she was elected to the National Assembly at the age of 25 in 2002, and became Minister of State for Finance and Economic Affairs just six years later.
Like Gilani, she comes from an influential family and is well educated -- but it is unclear how exactly she is qualified for such an important position in government.
Indeed, during Khar's first state visit to India a few months ago, the New Delhi media fawned over her beauty and her fashion sense -- not so much on the policy issues she was to discuss with her Indian counterpart (whom, by the way, was old enough to be her grandfather).
Again, like Gilani, her primary function appears to be making appearances in foreign countries, issuing tepid statements (written by her staff, of course), and presenting an attractive face for Pakistan to the outside world.
Thus, in a sense, Gilani and Khar serve as kind of 'co-chief executive officers of an entity called Pakistan Inc. Perhaps this is the new paradigm we have entered - statesmen as public relations fronts.
Which brings me back to Mitt Romney - he too comes from a politically influential family (his father George was governor of Michigan and himself aspired to become President) and he has a dazzling pedigree as a businessman. Romney the younger also served as governor of Massachusetts. He may become the next President of the United States and thus present a very attractive and elegant facade for the country to the rest of the world.
I am not saying that Romney is unqualified to be president -- far from it, in fact, he is far better qualified to be the U.S. president than, say, Gilani, is to be prime minister of Pakistan.
However, Romney has no real ideology or political philosophy behind him (hence, the endless flip-flops on various topics). Many of the Republican Party's right-wing do not like nor trust him, but they will probably vote for him anyway since they could not stomach voting for a Democrat.
Romney is only interested in power -- and perhaps fulfilling his father's own failed ambitions for the White House. Like Gilani (who, admittedly, lives in a radically different country) he seeks power at any cost - and part of that deal is to look like a leader.
Welcome to the brave new world where image has completely superseded substance.