Dressing up

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Since Halloween is right around the corner, we thought it might be a good time to revisit one of the cardinal rules of politics: Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be photographed in costume. 

Now, on the list of stupid things a politician can do, this isn’t quite as bad as, say, propositioning a stranger in an airport bathroom. But trust us, nothing will kill a campaign faster than photographic evidence of a candidate wearing a completely ridiculous outfit.

Don’t believe us? Well, why don’t you ask Michael Dukakis how donning a giant cartoon helmet and sitting in a tank worked out for him? Or John Kerry, who scored an image-wrecking twofer during his presidential bid by appearing in both a too-tight windsurfing wetsuit and a full-body hazmat suit that looked suspiciously like a sperm cell costume from Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.

Unfortunately, in the brave new world of online overshare, image-related humiliation is no longer limited to foolish missteps made during the campaign. These days, every drunken snapshot you blithely post on Facebook during your freshman year of college is certain to turn up at the most inopportune time imaginable.

And nobody knows this better than Virginia’s own Krystal Ball. This time last month, she was known (if at all) as the upstart Democrat with the funny name running an uphill battle against incumbent U.S. Representative Rob Wittman. Now she’s known far and wide as a representative of the Sexy Santa party, due to the recent release of some risqué, six-year-old photos that feature a furry hat, a short skirt, a pair of antlers and a rather unorthodox Rudolph the Reindeer nose.

On the plus side, this unfortunate incident has raised Ball’s name recognition through the roof, and has given her all kinds of free air time to make her case to the voters. Of course, when you’re running against a popular Republican in a conservative district, insisting that “society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives” might limit your appeal. Then again, if Ball gets the vote of every person who’s ever posted an embarrassing picture on Facebook, she’ll win in a landslide.

Then there’s Rich Iott, the Ohio Republican congressional candidate whose recently revealed penchant for dress-up is a bit less whimsical. Initially, the guy seemed like a real up-and-comer — a Tea Party favorite who was listed as a “Contender” on the GOP’s “Young Guns” website (a site inspired by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s recent book of the same name). So what happened? Well, funny story: As the Atlantic magazine discovered, it turns out that Iott has been putting on a German Waffen SS uniform and participating in Nazi war reenactments for years.

Ah, the old caught-in-a-Nazi-uniform conundrum! That’s always a tough one to explain.

At first, Iott tried to play it off by pointing out that “historical re-enacting is a hobby enjoyed by millions of men.” Then, when that didn’t wash, he released a statement by a Jewish business associate insisting that “Rich Iott is one of the most pro-Jewish, pro-Israel people I know.” But sadly, the damage was done. Within hours, Iott was scrubbed from the website (presumably at the behest of Cantor, the only Jewish Republican currently serving in congress), and the pretend Nazi was a Young Gun (or is that Young Luger?) no more.

So let this be a lesson to you, potential pols: The next time you feel the urge to put on a Nazi uniform and strap a sex toy to your face, think twice. There’s a very slight chance that it might come back to haunt you.

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