Facial hair among the political power players

ElectionsPersonal ServiceBarack ObamaGovernmentFederal ReserveAbraham Lincoln

When President-elect Barack Obama named New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as his pick for commerce secretary this month, his former Democratic rival appeared beside him, cleanshaven -- another devastating blow to facial hair in the long-running battle of beard versus Beltway.

The change apparently was shocking enough that a reporter felt compelled to quiz the future leader of the free world about it. Obama's response was unusually wistful: "We're deeply disappointed with the loss of the beard," the president-elect said. After a pause he added: "I think it was a mistake for him to get rid of it. I thought that whole Western, rugged look was really working for him."

Richardson began to grow his beard after dropping out of the Democratic primary in January,following the same tonsorial trajectory as Al Gore, who grew a full-on exile beard after his razor-thin loss in the 2000 election. In an Esquire interview posted at the magazine's website recently, Richardson said that going for the post-campaign chin fuzz was an act of rebellion "against those consultants who told me I had to comb my hair, shave, lose weight."

But with all due respect, there was only so much rebel in those whiskers. When the governor took the stage at Invesco Field during this summer's Democratic Convention, he hardly looked like Saddam fresh out of a spider hole, or Tom Hanks in the last third of "Cast Away." His beard was always well-groomed, shaved down to frame his cheeks and up to follow the jawline, and his mustache was always trimmed just so.

As a seasonal beard-grower, I can tell you (and the former energy secretary should agree): It actually takes more care and attention to meticulously manage the facial forest than it does to clear-cut.

In the days since the Barack-Bill beard-banter, many pundits have been quick to point out that there has been no bearded commander-in-chief since William Howard Taft and that Abraham Lincoln was elected cleanshaven and grew his famous beard between election and inauguration; some have suggested that bearded men are patently untrustworthy (to which I give you two words: Santa Claus).

What may be at work here is the misperception that bearded folk are somehow operating outside the system. Not to split hairs, but the real renegades are those with laissez-faire facial hair.

Just look at Wilford Brimley's walrus-mop mustache versus Colonel Sanders' Vandyke. No wonder it's oatmeal versus fried chicken. And Kenny Loggins' neatly trimmed beard made him seem warm and fuzzy, while two-thirds of ZZ Top look like they'd make ashtrays out of your kneecaps just for giggles.

If you need proof that facial hair can go the distance in the incoming administration, look no further than Obama's pick for attorney general. Eric Holder sports a mustache, sure enough, but it's as sharp and defined as a brand new Batarang. If you think Holder steps out of the house without trimming that hedgerow, you've got another think coming.

Of course one inside-the-Beltway beard that's been in the spotlight is a bit less carefully cropped. It's the full-blown salt-and-pepper Socrates-style neck creeper that belongs to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Most days it looks like it's about to escape down the collar of his shirt.

Our advice? If you want to be taken seriously, trim it back at least as often as you trim interest rates.

Tschorn is a Times staff writer.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
ElectionsPersonal ServiceBarack ObamaGovernmentFederal ReserveAbraham Lincoln
  • Ekata is a Western-fitness, Eastern-philosophy, no-TV club
    Ekata is a Western-fitness, Eastern-philosophy, no-TV club

    A group of elementary school kids sat cross-legged on the floor, their eyes shut tight, listening to their teacher: How was their day at school? What were they feeling? Could they take a moment to breathe and check in with themselves?

  • Crumbs Bake Shop to reopen on Larchmont Boulevard on Tuesday
    Crumbs Bake Shop to reopen on Larchmont Boulevard on Tuesday

    After closing all of its stores nationwide in July, Crumbs Bake Shop will reopen a location on Larchmont Boulevard on Tuesday. The company also recently opened a location on Broadway in the New York Garment District and at the Chicago Water Tower Place. 

  • The Gadarene Swine is a carnivore chef's complicated vegan venture
    The Gadarene Swine is a carnivore chef's complicated vegan venture

    The pleasures of veganism, not so long ago the far frontier of meat-free dining, are not as elusive as they used to be. The strictures of raw-food enthusiasts, macrobiotic restaurants and paleo devotees make the demands of vegans, who demand only that their food be free of animal products,...

  • 'The Hilltop' views everyday absurdism in occupied territories
    'The Hilltop' views everyday absurdism in occupied territories

    Assaf Gavron's 2010 novel "Almost Dead" does something I would have thought impossible — it makes satire out of terrorism. The story of a man who becomes an Israeli national hero after surviving three attacks in a single week, the book offers a sharply ironic look at the...

  • It's World Tripe Day! Where would Jonathan Gold celebrate?
    It's World Tripe Day! Where would Jonathan Gold celebrate?

    The first question you may have about World Tripe Day is whether the occasion in fact exists. It has not, as far as I know, been sanctioned by Congress or any other official sanctioning body, and unlike Melon Day in Turkmenistan (Aug. 9), or National Pigs in a Blanket day in the United...

  • Restaurant wine service: A few pet peeves
    Restaurant wine service: A few pet peeves

    For anyone who cares about wine, buying it in a restaurant can be thrilling, fraught with missteps or somewhere in between. In Los Angeles, we're lucky enough to have world-class wine service at such restaurants as Spago and Cut, République, Osteria Mozza and many others. But not...