Charm 1, Alito 0

If style counts for anything, the Supreme Court nominee is off to a slow start.

Published January 9, 2006 6:04PM (EST)

In the run-up to this week's confirmation hearing, White House spinners did their best to downplay expectations for Samuel Alito. While the man is unquestionably intelligent and experienced, they warned that he can't compete against John G. Roberts in any sort of polish-and-charm contest. And while the president insisted this morning that Alito would bring some "class" to the Supreme Court, the men and women who worked to prep the nominee for today's hearing suggested that he wouldn't be polished, that he'd show up with "a couple of hairs out of place," and that he's a guy from New Jersey and would probably look like it.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But what the spinners didn't say is that Alito would look so ... dour. The nominee was pleasant enough as he introduced his wife and children this morning. But as soon as Arlen Specter started speaking, Alito sat back in his chair and adopted the solemn facial expression of a child getting lectured in the principal's office. Through Leahy, through Hatch and Kennedy, through Grassley, through Biden, Alito has sat virtually motionless. He doesn't wince at accusations; he doesn't laugh at jokes; he doesn't acknowledge senators when they address him directly. If it weren't for an occasional blink and a slowly darkening 5 o'clock shadow, you wouldn't know that Alito is alive.

Is Alito's appearance a superficial concern? Absolutely. But can it make a difference in how the public perceives the man and his views? See George W.Bush, likability of.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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