Why don’t politicians have beards?
As you read in my post about beard history, modern humans have bearded men to thank for pretty much everything in existence. Also in that post, bearded men that were the leaders of nations were often highlights of beard history. This begs the question:
Why don’t politicians have beards?
In the past, it was very common for politicians in the United States to have beards. It may not be a coincidence, however, that the last bearded President wasn’t really the greatest: Taft. One bad apple can really ruin it for the rest, amiright?
Perhaps the most famous of ‘Murica’s bearded Presidents, Lincoln, didn’t always have a beard. In fact, when he was elected President he did not have a beard. The story goes that he started growing it at the suggestion of a little girl that he met during his travels
That was during the golden age of facial hair, though. In more modern times, although it’s not uncommon to see politicians with facial hair, it is curious to note the timing of the style.
Take Bill Richardson, for example. He spent his political career clean shaven, but when he lost the democratic presidential nomination and it appeared he’d be out of politics for a while, what was the first thing he did?
Grew a beard.
Richardson didn’t seem to realize that Obama was considering him for a job in his cabinet though. And when he accepted the nomination for Commerce Secretary, he showed up for the press conference with Obama beardless once again.
We’re deeply disappointed with the loss of the beard.
-Obama, speaking about Bill Richardson’s choice to go clean shaven after growing his beard
This isn’t the first example of a notable person growing a beard during a period of mourning. In fact, if we go back to the odd scenario in the year 2000 when Al Gore “lost” the Presidential election in spite of actually winning the election, we can see an interesting case of him continuing in his role as a public figure, but sticking with the beard now that he was out of elected office.
This phenomenon isn’t isolated to ‘Murica, though. In several countries of east Asia, historical dramas are quite popular, and many male characters, even royalty, sport beards. Yet any kind of facial hair spotted among the employed class is indeed a rarity. Nowadays, facial hair, especially beards, are seen as dirty and lazy.
Et tu, Canada, eh?
Even in Canada, a fully modern country where beards are far more socially acceptable than perhaps any other non-Islamic country, a bearded political leader is hard to find. In fact, their last Prime Minister with a beard even pre-dates the last ‘Murican President with a beard. It was Mackenzie Bowell in 1894. Even worse: Prime ministers are appointed, not elected.
Any Canadians reading this by now are probably saying, Hey, what about Thomas Mulcair, eh?
Well, you are correct. Mulcair is the head of the New Democratic Party in Canada, and he has really made the beard work for him. People seem to think it makes him look more politically independent.
Getting to the bottom of beards’ bad reputation
Beard historians seem to trace the destruction of the reputation of beards to one man:
Around the time that his ideas were coming to prominence, is also when you started to see villains sporting facial hair in other places in popular culture.
Although there is a silver lining to all of this: While facial hair is commonly sported by villains, in more recent times, beards have been seen less as evil, and more as just rebellious.
Towards the end of the 20th century, something else happened: Y2K. Y2K could have easily been the end of civilization. But thanks to a few bearded men, it turned out to be no big deal. In fact, at the turn of the century, it seemed that beards might be ready for their come back. But beards would soon face a setback far worse than even Karl Marx and the red menace:
Osama bin Laden: The worst thing to happen to beards since sliced bread (seriously, growing a large beard pretty much means sandwiches become your worst enemy).
Luckily, beards bounced back from 9/11 pretty quickly. One of the responses to 9/11 was a change in military strategy that involved embedding Special Forces soldiers with local groups to train and assist their militias. This led to the now relatively normal sight of a fully decked out soldier also sporting a long, glorious, beard. This certainly helped beards recover their reputation in the post-9/11 world, and in fact, “NexGen Persuasion,” an image consultation company with many politicians as clients, said that between 2003 and 2004 there was a brief window in American politics where it was okay to have a beard (this was when Al Gore was sporting his beard). It is even theorized that when John Kerry challenged George Bush for the Presidency in 2004, that Kerry could have easily cast aside his ‘flip-flopper’ image, had he grown a beard, which evokes feelings of stability and tradition.
The current ‘trendiness’ of beards now is really evidence of this being the dark ages in beard history. Beards are seen as notable and unique, rather than normal and an expected part of being a man. But we, the bearded brotherhood, have a chance to use the momentum of this trend to usher in the next 2,000 years of beard prosperity by never giving in and shaving off our beards.
Rest assured, beards have been the source of men’s inner strength since the time of Jesus. Together, bearded bretheren, it is up to us to protect the reputation of the beard! This is why it is important to not just grow a beard, but to support pro-beard images in popular culture.
Boycott movies where the villain with a handlebar moustache is tying women to railroad tracks.
Vote with your dollars, and support businesses that allow their employees to grow facial hair.
And remember: It takes positive roles model to counter negative stereotypes.
Tags: culture, history, politics, prominent beards