June 30, 2009

Hail to the hirsute

While availing myself of some ridiculously delicious Wise Honey BBQ potato chips from the vending machine at the day job, I noticed something interesting…
Sorry for the crappy photos and inaccurate date, but I am a legendarily bad photographer. Still, my point is made: The fictional sample President pictured on the venue machine looks like no President that had ever occupied the White House. He has shoulder-length hair and a walrus mustache. Apparently, in Vending Machine Land, General Custer survived Little Bighorn and was elected chief executive immediately afterward.

The choice of this picture really puzzles me, since we haven't had a President with facial hair in almost 100 years. Apparently, modern Americans think if you haven't shaved, you have something to hide. There was a bit of a to-do several years ago, in fact, when Jon Corzine was first running for governor of New Jersey and advisers told him to lose his beard; he refused, but won anyway. (And of course, we here in New York now have our own bearded governor, for all the good he's doing us. New Mexico's joined the club too, though I suspect Richardson stopped giving a shit once he flamed out in the presidential election.)

Discounting the sweet sideburns on the face of President Martin Van Buren (1837–1841), our first facially haired President was Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865). Nine of the next eleven chief executives were hirsute (counting Grover Cleveland twice, as most historians do). Best of the lot was definitely Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881):

That last to be mustachioed was William Howard Taft (1909–1913). Personally, I think facial-hair hatred has always been baseline for American culture; the late 1800s were an anomaly, brought about by the Civil War. For whatever reason—maybe just that both Lincoln and Lee wore whiskers—facial hair became fashionable during the conflict, and it was nearly mandatory that postwar politicians appropriate the look (if not an actual record) of Civil War service. The aesthetic persisted long enough to carry over into the early 20th century, but was dead by the First World War. Still, check out this sweet look on 1916 Republican nominee Charles Evans Hughes:
That last hirsute major-party nominee was New York's own Thomas Dewey, Republican candidate in both 1944 and '48:A famous quip from the '44 campaign was from Alice Roosevelt Longworth (TR's eldest), who compared the Republican to "the little man on the wedding cake." Humiliation like that went a long way toward both of Dewey's losses. The tide was turning against facial hair, never to return, despite what the vending-machine industry says.

Bonus: Check out the great T-shirt BQT doorgirl Sherry got me for my birthday last year (the back gives an honorable mention to Martin VB):


BlueDuck said...

No one beats Chester A. Arthur for the most badass facial hair in presidential history.

President Obama, toss those razors away! The gauntlet has been thrown down!

--Jeremy W. (of the Fournicators)

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