President's Day hair check

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Which president in history had the best hair? Certainly John F. Kennedy had good hair. Ronald Reagan and BIll Clinton, too. There are others throughout history, but who am I to judge what was in style from before I was born?

The aforementioned former presidents were all handsome as well, which does not always go hand-in-hand with good hair.

Why does any of this matter, you ask? It shouldn't matter, but appearance can make or break a candidate, and Ben Shapiro examines this subject in his book, Project President: Bad Hair & Botox on the Road to the White House (Thomas Nelson, 304 pages, $22.99).

Project President

Here's what Shapiro concludes about the father of our country: "Today's media would have savaged Washington. [He] would have faced scrutiny over his lavish spending habits, questionable military tactics, gold-digging and his cold austerity, though he would have gained points for keeping his hair."

Shapiro even got Tim Gunn, the fashion guru of Bravo's "Project Runway," to blurb the book: "I'm constantly citing the power of dress. It's semiology: our clothes send a message about how we want to be perceived, and where is this more powerful and evident than in elected offices. In Project President, Ben Shapiro captures presidential semiotics with a potent narrative and deft analysis. It's simultaneously fascinating and hilarious!"

Though Shapiro's book is already a little out of date — he scrutinizes some candidates that are no longer running for the presidential nomination — it's still fun reading.

Here's a review from the Associated Press...


With the presidential election still 10 months away, voters seem to be tiring of political posturing, endless debates and negative ads. It’s enough to make a voter nostalgic for the good ol’ days.

You know, the days when politicians put the country’s needs first, when informed voters favored substance over style, when campaigns were free of the endless mudslinging of recent generations. The only problem is, those good ol’ days never existed.

In Project President, syndicated columnist Ben Shapiro demonstrates how voters have been swayed by superficiality since the birth of our nation.

‘‘When we vote, we vote not for a platform, but for a person,’’ he writes. ‘‘And we judge our presidential candidates the same way we judge everyone else: based on the whole package.’’

That package includes factors more suited for online dating than a presidential race. According to Shapiro, we prefer candidates who are tall, have good hair, have a cowboy streak and would be good drinking buddies.

No surprise there. But we tend to think of these preferences as products of the ultra-visual Television Age. Not so, Shapiro says — at one point or another, all presidential campaigns have waged personal attacks, on topics ranging from an opponent’s lack of warmth to his unsightly physical appearance.

Say it ain’t so, Ben. Surely Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected only because people cherished the way he held the country together during the Depression? Certainly Jefferson won only because of his tireless work as a founding father? And Honest Abe — doubtless he of all people was above such petty tactics?

Shapiro proves otherwise. He bases his arguments on plenty of engaging campaign anecdotes you won’t find in the average history textbook, such as Jefferson supporters mocking John Adams as mentally unstable and Lincoln delivering biting insults with wit and impeccable timing.

Despite Shapiro’s checklist, however, winning in politics is never a sure thing. There have been cases where the shorter candidate wins, where a bald man is elected, where advanced age trumps youth. Shapiro puts these exceptions into perspective with other factors that helped those winners overcome their perceived shortcomings.

Shapiro ends by analyzing the current crop of candidates, judging three Democrats and three Republicans on a series of factors that include height, personal warmth, military experience and spousal contributions.

On the Democratic side, the 6-foot-2-inch Barack Obama has youth and a winning smile. Those help him edge out John Edwards, whose populist message is eclipsed by the perception that he’s more focused on his hair than on policy. Hillary Clinton is a distant third, her negative ranking attributed to a perceived lack of warmth and inability to connect with common folks.

The three Republicans whom Shapiro analyzes finish in a tighter pack. Mitt Romney ekes out a thin victory on the strength of his pleasant appearance, nice personality and stable marital history. But Rudy Giuliani isn’t far behind because Romney’s excessive niceness can be interpreted as weakness.

Giuliani gets points for his handling of 9/11 and his beer-buddy persona, and gets docked for his checkered marital past. John McCain comes in third, his likability and military heroism overshadowed by a sense that he has aged too much since 2000.

Shapiro makes clear that there’s no magic formula for success, and candidates can emphasize other positives to overcome a lack of favored characteristics. He also defends the phenomenon of image influencing voters’ decisions.

But the biggest benefit of Project President may be that it reassures us. Yes, we voters may be shallow, but no more so than the centuries of voters before us. Maybe it’s time to stop blaming TV, and just accept that our political decisions have always been influenced by superficiality.


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I am 36 years old but have a nice balding look that makes me look 50. The simple fact is that people somehow or rather always prefer candidates that look younger and fresher. I guess it has something to do with having a fresh broom that sweeps cleaner.

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This page contains a single entry by Teresa Budasi published on February 18, 2008 7:04 AM.

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