It all started with John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency. After eight years with President Eisenhower’s baldness and Vice President Nixon’s receding hairline, the American public was ready for a change. Kennedy had great hair, which he flaunted by appearing bareheaded at his inauguration. A new political maxim was established that day; to win in American politics, it’s not what’s in your head, but what’s on your head that counts. In addition, counting the votes of dead people is useful.
Forty years ago, as an idealistic college student, I asked a balding U.S. senator to tell me the most important factor in getting elected. “A good financial base,” he replied — yet I noticed he was nervously running a hand through his thinning hair. Since I was broke and baldness ran in my family, I gave up all thought of a political career.
It turned out to be a wise decision — just look what happened to Al Gore in the 2000 election. I’m certain it was those overhead shots of Gore’s balding crown that finally convinced Florida that Bush was their man. And is it mere coincidence that a man named Bush won two terms?
Nixon finally got elected, despite his hair, but had to resign in disgrace. President Clinton was a shoo-in for two terms with his full head of hair. The fact that it was mostly gray was not an issue. Gray hair always trumps no hair. Clinton was criticized for his $250 haircuts, but those reporters were either bald or failed to realize the key political asset of an outstanding hairdo.
Americans expect their commander-in-chief to have a full head of hair. Even the founding fathers understood this basic principle of democracy. Why do you think wigs were so popular among those who were follicularly challenged? If the bald politicians today could bring back wigs, the playing field could finally be leveled. Facial hair, on the other hand, has been out since William Howard Taft’s luxurious mustache.
Back to Mr. Gore, The New York Times reported in 2001 that he was having difficulty raising funds for another run at the presidency. The photo accompanying the article provided the explanation — he had grown a full beard! Did Mr. Gore think a full beard would help in Florida’s Cuban population? Fidel Castro had a beard, for goodness’ sake.
Now Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has sprouted a beard, which does not bode well come re-election time. Instead of “Build that wall!” his supporters should be chanting, “Shave that beard!” And what about the current slate of Democratic hopefuls for the presidency? The one candidate who has absolutely no hope is Senator Cory Booker, who sports a shaved head. University professors everywhere agree that it is mathematically impossible to be elected president if you are as bald as a cue ball.
And what’s the deal with Bernie Sanders? He has a pretty good head of hair for a guy who’s nearly 100 years old. But his staff needs to get him a comb and some gel. It looks like he combs his hair with a balloon, with all that static electricity. Either that or his hair is standing on end because he’s amazed that people actually turn out for his rallies.
How about the other old white guy in the race, Democrat Joe Biden? One word: plugs. American don’t like cheaters. Unfortunately for the Democrats, there’s no contender for the standard they set with JFK, so President Trump wins in 2020. Trump has the most interesting hair in the field — people can’t figure it out, but the point is they are talking about it.
Hair is undoubtedly the politician’s crowning glory. What the dermatologists refer to as androgenetic alopecia has caused many a promising political career to literally go down the drain. For all you budding young politicos out there, remember: It’s not what’s between your ears but what’s growing over them that counts. If you can keep this principle in mind, you could one day be a winner — by a hair.
Joe D. Haines is a family physician.
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