Will America elect the follicle-ly challenged?
By Frank Cagle
The most delicate job a political consultant faces is talking to the candidateâ"or the candidate's spouseâ"about, well, personal appearance. In the modern age, everything about a candidate comes under scrutiny.
A tactful consultant might suggest to the candidate that he is looking less like an officeholder and more like a statesman. In Republican circles it might be suggested you are looking a little â“Howard Baker-ish.â” If you don't understand the code, look at a picture of Howard Baker when he was in the senate and look at a picture of him since he's been an ambassador. That's usually enough to get the candidate on a diet.
Some wags have suggested they won't believe Al Gore is running for president until he hits the gym. The William Howard Taft look just doesn't get it anymore.
It is a problem for a lot of people in public life. There are few political gatherings that don't involve foodâ"starchy, greasy, carbohydrate-laden foodâ"you know, the good kind. In the course of a campaign a candidate gets fed several times a day. The smart ones learn to work the tables while everyone else is eating and then run out of time to shovel down the rubber chicken and mashed potatoes.
Some have learned not to eat at public events, but then the driver whips the SUV through a fast food drive-thru and everybody scarfs a Big Mac. Or late into night, you wind up sleepless in a Waffle House, adrenalin-pumped, eating a breakfast that would embarrass a lumberjack.
I once worked for a politician who would always dutifully order a salad. Then he would eat three baskets of greasy tortilla chips waiting for it.
It's not just the candidate's weight, of course. It's about the proper clothes, tasteful ties and the like. Then there is the hair.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards brought attention to personal grooming last week when campaign disclosures revealed a couple of $400 haircuts. Given that Edwards already stars in a YouTube clip playing with his hair and that Rush Limbaugh refers to him as â“the Breck girlâ” you would think he would be sensitive to the issue. But Edwards is always telling us about the Two Americas, one rich and one poor. Guess we know which America he lives in. But I'm sure an elderly widow out in Iowa who sent him $400 for his campaign is relieved to know he used it to look good. She didn't really need that prescription filled, anyway.
Much has been made of major candidates this time including a woman (Hillary Clinton) and an African American (Barack Obama). But there's another area where we might see a breakthrough. No one has talked about this because if you aren't in that particular minority group you aren't really sensitive to it. We don't have a support group and we don't have a militant agenda, but we suffer rampant discrimination just the same.
(Have you ever wondered why someone as brilliant as I am isn't a television anchor?)
America hasn't elected a bald man president since Dwight â“Ikeâ” Eisenhowerâ"in other words, since the invention of television. We did have the appointed bald-headed president Gerald Fordâ"but he wasn't elected for a second term now was he? Texas senator Phil Gramm went into a presidential race with more money than anybody and dropped out before New Hampshire.
Some consultant finally convinced Rudy Giuliani to cut his hair short and drop the comb-over. The only thing that looks sillier than a toupee is a comb-over. So it is now clear that Rudy's face goes up to the back of his head. Fred Thompson's thinning hair finally thinned to invisibility and is now clipped short. Giuliani has been leading Republican polls, and Thompson has been running strong in the polls even though he hasn't announced he's running.
Will these two charismatic and talented candidates be able to overcome the prejudice, the bigotry and the opposition of the hair-care products industry? Let's remember that the election of the bare-headed mop-topped John Kennedy destroyed the American hat industry.
Can one of these bald guys beat the Breck girl? Will America look beyond the stereotypes? Will America accept a president who only needs to spend $10 on a haircut? What will the French think?
Should Giuliani or Thompson be successful it will embolden us all. Others who have more political ambitions than frontal lobe cover might be inspired to enter public life. Nobody ever wanted to fire Don Imus for frequently calling his producer a â“bald-headed Naziâ” and his sports reporter a â“bald-headed stooge.â” Maybe that will change.
As someone who is looking more â“Ned McWherter-ishâ” and the years go by, I am as heartened by the Thompson/Giuliani phenomenon as anything I've seen since the headline that â“60 is the new 40.â”
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