I realize perceptions like these become ingrained over the course of many decades, and these media observations are not intended to be racist of misogynistic. Handsome, middle-aged white men have been the presidential norm for generations. I get that. But the larger point is this: observers accustomed to the old way are going to have to change their perceptions. I don’t know whether Barack Obama "looks like a president" by the standards of the media establishment, but I do know he is the president, which necessarily changes what it means to look like one. Hillary Clinton may not have been out of central casting, but she very easily could have been elected, too.
Jonathan Bernstein buries Cohen's cultural view even further:
Yes, once upon a time movie presidents all looked like Henry Fonda and Walter Huston. But a quick check of wikipedia reveals that recent presidents have included Danny Glover, Blair Underwood, Louis Gossett, Jr., Chris Rock, Michael Dorn, Morgan Freeman, Jimmy Smits, Geena Davis, Patricia Wettig…do I need to go on? […Y]es there are still plenty of James Cromwells and James Caans, but Hollywood loves its black presidents, and is gradually getting used to the idea of women in the White House, too. Which means that Richard Cohen is not only years behind reality, but he's also years behind where the rest of the culture is.
(Photo: US President George W. Bush (C) stands with President-elect Barack Obama (2nd L), former President George H.W. Bush (L), former President Bill Clinton (2nd R) and former President Jimmy Carter (R) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 7, 2009. Bush, acting on a suggestion by Obama, invited the former Presidents and President-elect for lunch, the first time since 1981 that all living presidents have been together at the White House. By Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)