Before 1960, when we began to televise presidential debates and revealed certain candidates to be unlikable blobs, presidential campaigns were full of all sorts of deception. Were voters, for example, aware that William Taft weighed over 300 pounds, that Andrew Johnson had a propensity for showing up the to official receptions drunk and slurring or that James Madison was teeny-tiny and elf-like at 5’ 4”?
In those days, these things were not deal-breakers. How often did the public have to see the president in a non-posed capacity anyway? As long as he was showing up to work and not stealing from them there was no reason to be concerned with whether or not he was a little hefty and/or a leprechaun.
Now lets flash-forward to the present. Here is a picture of the current Republican primary field:
Clearly, in order to participate in a Republican primary, you have to meet certain criteria:
- You MUST have a full head of hair and/or be combing-over to mask your lack of hair.
- That plethora of hair must feature a very serious side part that says, “Hi, I haven’t rethought my stance on civil rights since early 1962, which, coincidentally is the last time I changed my haircut.”
- Only one of each token minority is permitted however no representative of a minority can be a sensible candidate.
- At least three of the candidates must be physically interchangeable (Romney, Perry, and Hunstman all look like varying levels of the same man. Then, Santorum looks like a confused version of this man and Newt looks like the psychopathic and old version.)
You may have noticed that 50% of these requirements are hair-related. There is an important precedent for the need to show off your best hair when running for president. Nixon, after all, was sporting a balding gangster cut/sickly post-hospital glow when he appeared next to the youthful, side-parting Kennedy in their inaugural 1960 debate. Not bringing his hair A-game to that debate was a mistake – Kennedy was really the best side-parter of the modern era and it showed.
It’s interesting that Kennedy’s hairstyle is now the go-to for the Republican field. Hair is very important to Republicans because vaguely misleading symbolism is important to them. (They are sort of like Communists in that way.) Effective “Republican hair” will make you instinctively think two things:
- This is a man I could play catch with (results vary by general plausibility) at a BBQ.
- This is a man who has not thought of anything new in the last 90 years and therefore will be a worthy shepherd for my conservative values.
On the other-gender front, hair symbolism is no less important. Democratic women generally sport shorter hair – Hillary, Nancy, even the upstart Elizabeth Warren (check #3 in this list) all have coiffed but practical mops that lets us know that they intend to take on the boys at their own game. Conservative women, on the other hand, are not supposed to mean business. Their hair must read:
- This is a woman who would feed me delicious fresh-baked cookies while repairing a tear in my coat lining by hand.
- Aren’t women hilarious?
Now, to be fair many Democrats have sported a Kennedy-esque side part and/or the dated equivalent. (There have been some full-blown librarian-hair disasters among the women.) Generally, however, overly coiffed floppy hair does not appeal to democratic voters, who are rightly wary of McCartyism-era style choices. Presidents Clinton and Carter both parted their hair on the side, but neither really got into “styling” it. Gore, Edwards (really a Kennedy competitor for best hair), and even Lieberman attempted a side-part-with-product and found it did not read with democratic audiences. What read, of course, was the ultimate aberration in presidential hair, Barack Obama’s close-cut, no-product-necessary non-mop.
This year, in an exciting turn of events, the Republican field has their own hair-berration (GET IT?!), Herman Cain. Cain must avoid parallels to Obama, his closest hair ally, but must still win credibility with the conservative, man-hair-product-loving crowd. His strategy is really ingenious — by being so insane and random, any attention that would go to his hair instead goes to his general unlikeliness as a person. Who has time to worry about what he looks like when just the idea of him is unbelievable?
Minus scandal-ridden Cain, this year’s Republican contenders look like they would be best suited to a primary being held in 1968, right before civil rights broke out and ruined square-loving responsible Americans forever. If the Tea Party really wanted to shake things up, couldn’t they have considered funky haircuts before ill-advised tax cuts? That would be soooooo much less destructive and no less revolutionary.