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Comments (1) Posted 11.28.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Owen Edwards

Hair Apparent



Abraham Lincoln as a bald President. Image from this LiveJournal post.

I have one word of advice for Rudi Giuliani (or is it three words?): Fuggedaboutit!

There has been talk of late that, given the underwhelming response to each and every Republican candidate for the presidential nomination, the former mayor of New York City may be considering entering the race. He’s been there before, of course, only a few years ago, with unhappy results (for him, at least). But I have to remind him of one political axiom that has remained unchallenged since Dwight Eisenhower left the White House: America does not elect bald men to the land’s highest office. Tressed for success is a modern electoral imperative. Candidate Herman Cain, he of the vanishing mane, can make a snide remark to Jay Leno about what he considers Mitt Romney’s best qualification: “Nice hair.” (Echoed later by Michelle Bachman.) But he’ll find soon enough that nice hair trumps mediocre pizza. And speaking of Trump, The Donald smartly got out of the race before he had to give a speech on a windy day in Chicago.

The New York Times recently granted front page status to an article about Mitt Romney’s hair, and the barber who maintains it. Which made me realize that my quadrennial interest in the scalps of our political scalawags is finally up there with all the other news that’s fit to print. As to the question of whether the hair of presidential candidates has any design relevance, I can only say that quite a while ago, the simple expedient known as the haircut was elevated to the more serious-sounding (and more expensive) “hair design.”

In terms of significance, just think about it. The thatch factor has been a crucial element in U.S. politics ever since the thick-haired John Kennedy doffed his top hat to ride bare-headed in his inaugural parade. It was the death of the men’s hat business and hirsute history in the making, following a campaign that made the television-ready JFK our mane man. After that, looking good on the small screen became a design asset in the quest for votes, and a manly hairline was a visual advantage. Thus, the march of follicles began. Politicians at all levels took note. Comb-overs sprang up like tarps at rain-delayed ball games. (See: Rudolph Giuliani, the Gotham years; and the late Hubert Humphrey, who seemed prepared to comb the hair in an armpit over the top of his head if necessary.) Plugs came into play. (See: Joseph Biden.) And it’s possible that even spookier things took place. For example, Richard Nixon, whose receding hairline (no Thicky Dicky he) clearly foretold impending baldness, never lost his hair. I’m convinced that he made a deal with the devil to keep his hair in exchange for his soul. The devil got the short end of the deal, of course, but the Nixonian hairline held fast. Of all the presidents since Kennedy, Ronald Reagan had the best hair, Hollywood hair, so baroque in its sculptural flair that had Ronald not been the oldest president ever, he might have single-headedly brought back the pompadour.

The good hair imperative is now as unisex as the places that used to be called barber shops. Sara Palin has excellent hair (though in fairness, so do most of the other women on Fox News), and if Michelle Bachman understands little else, she understands hair power; it’s been reported that she’s often late getting to the podium because extra time is being devoted to hair and makeup.

So let’s look at the contenders for the top spot, and consider their top knots.

First, the incumbent: Barack Obama keeps his hair very short, but he doesn’t seem to be losing any. He is graying fast, as younger presidents tend to do (see Clinton and Bush 43rd). The Onion headline the day after the election, “Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job” has proved to be too, too true, and the stress is having a visible effect. But there’s no threat of de-forestation, and though Barack has re-election worries, bad hair isn’t his problem.

Among the Republicans in the race, except for Cain, none looks in danger of baldness any time soon.

Mitt Romney: Though considered suspect by Tea Partiers for erstwhile liberal views, Romney has classically winning Republican hair; he is the un-mussable Mormon. In fact, leaving aside possible political differences, Mitt has the hair that even balding progressives dream of having.

Rick Perry: The Texas governor has plenty on the top of his head, though quite possibly much less within. But as opposed to Mitt’s combed-back locks, Perry’s hair just lies there, semi-tousled, looking more than a bit like road kill dropped on the candidate from a great height. Ironically, Perry’s hair, though genuine, has a touch of the toupee about it.

Newt Gingrich: The former House speaker has told some real whoppers, but at least he’s true to the gray hair that is often worrisome to candidates. Newt has managed to resurrect his campaign, but the question remains: With the deck of his personal history already stacked against him, will his gray hair signal his obsolescence?

Michele Bachmann: You’d think that the 23 children Bachmann says she helped raise would make her as gray as Newt, and she is, after all, a woman of a certain age. So it’s very likely that there’s some camouflaging going on. At least Michele hasn’t yet resorted to the retro updo made famous by Sarah Palin. Her odd policy worries about things that go bump in the night have hurt her, but not her locks.

Herman Cain: Hare brained? Possibly. But not hair-impaired. Cain has a winning smile, which tends to draw attention away from his sparse scalp. Unlike, say, Mr. Giuliani, Cain manages not to look bald, his most successful subterfuge.

Ron Paul: Congressman Paul, a man who staunchly opposes almost everything, including, we can assume, any hint of glamour, has the kind of oh-what-the-hell hair that is as hard to describe as it is to remember. True to his determination to tell it as it is, with Paul’s hair what you see is what you get.

John Huntsman: The former ambassador may have the best hair of all, tactfully diplomatic, thick and comfortably salt-and-peppery…even Clooneyesque. Nothing flashy, nothing Trump l’oeil about it, this is winning hair. But among conservatives, Huntsman’s quite reasonable ideas will more than nullify his top crop.

Rick Santorum:  Your basic GOP head, no more memorable than anything else about him.

So, who will be the Republican hair apparent? All we can be sure of at this point, 11 months from the election, is that no capitol chrome dome will be on the ticket. A candidate may be svelte, and his views heart felt, but without a pelt, he hasn’t a prayer — no matter how many primary votes he gets just for praying. On merit alone, if the best locks were a lock, Huntsman would be an easy winner. But his poll numbers predict that he’ll be hair today, and gone tomorrow. So despite a desperate “anyone but Mitt” search by the right, the second best mane will be The Man. Whether Romney’s comb-hither looks will put him in the White House is anybody’s guess, but whether the next president is the incumbent or the contender, what we can safely bet on is that a barber — er, hair designer — will still be making visits to the Oval Office.
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Well, that explains why I'll never be President; unless I run on the Chrome Dome ticket.
Geoff
12.05.11 at 06:33



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Owen Edwards is the co-author of the design book Quintessence, and the author of its sequel Elegant Solutions. His latest book, Caught in the Act, a collaboration with Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein, was published in October of 2013.
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