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Michael Sigman

Michael Sigman

Posted: June 2, 2010 07:09 PM

Bald Pols: To Pay or Not Toupee

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"Although the constitution makes no mention of it, it would appear that fat people are now effectively excluded from running for high political office. Probably bald people as well."
--Neil Postman, 1985

It's tough to be a politician and a member of what Larry David calls "the bald community" in America, particularly when your shoulders also carry the burden of taking our country back. On last week's Real Time with Bill Maher, one of the host's New Rules was, "If Rand Paul is a true libertarian, he has to free his toupee."

Since Samson went limp when his hair was cut off, men have associated baldness with weakness and tried to, well, cover it up. Goat's urine failed a follicle-challenged Aristotle 2,500 years ago. A couple of millennia later, cow saliva didn't do the trick for Renaissance men, nor did a combination of meditation and head stands work for guys in India.

Before TV dominated image-making, it was okay, even cool, to be a bald politician, like Churchill and Ike (who twice beat Adlai Stevenson, another bald chap.)

But once the public began gazing at JFK's shock of blow-dried (every day!) chestnut brown locks -- a single strand of which now goes for upwards of $500 -- in the 1960 presidential campaign, bald pols have suffered. The infamous $400 John Edwards haircut? That was expressly meant to give the pretty boy a JFK look.

It's one thing for movie stars like John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Burt Reynolds to burnish their machismo by wearing toupees -- after all, their very mission is to fool us into thinking they're someone else. On the other hand, deep hipness is ascribed to such hirsute-less celebs as Telly Savalas, Yul Brynner, Patrick Stewart, Samuel Jackson, Bruce Willis and Michael Jordan -- some of whom are bald by choice. And the clean-headed, grime-fighter Mr. Clean has for decades been an admired ad pitchman and pop culture icon.

Does it undermine our trust if an office-seeker doesn't come clean about not having too much on his pate? Rudy Giuliani finally let his unfreak flag fly -- and then got only one delegate in the 2008 Republican primaries despite having spent $50 million. But perhaps he was just a terrible candidate.

Bad combovers (Senator John McCain), weird hair plugs (Vice President Joe Biden) and clamped-on toupees (Senator Ben Nelson) have become practically de rigueur for pols. Donald Trump isn't a politician, but his hair, which defies categorization -- except that he appears to be the evil offspring of Al Sharpton and Ted Koppel -- cannot be ignored.

The exception that proves the rule is former President Wayne Palmer, whose brother, the great President David Palmer, had earlier been felled by an assassin's bullet. Wayne is a handsome bald man who looked fabulous on TV before he slipped into a coma from which he's still not awakened. (Alas, both Palmers were fictional characters on a certain TV series whose climactic episode aired last month.)

You might say to all of this, "So what's the big deal? Who cares if someone's bald? Just what is the meaning of 'bald,' anyway, on the deepest level?"

The late scholar Ruth Manor Ph.D. -- perhaps best known for the Rescher-Manor Mechanism in logic -- grappled with this question in the weighty tome The Philosophy of Language Metaphysics. With the help of complex mathematical equations, she baldly, er, boldly conclulded that "only the bald are bald."

In Rand Paul's toupee considerations, I wonder if he consulted this argument against health care reform from aynrand.org, a repository of wisdom from his namesake Ayn Rand and her followers:

You are born with a moral right to hair care, let us say, provided by a loving government free of charge to all who want or need it. Haircuts are free, like the air we breathe, so some people show up every day for an expensive new styling, the government pays out more and more, barbers revel in their huge new incomes, and the profession starts to grow ravenously, bald men start to come in droves for free hair implantations, a school of fancy, specialized eyebrow pluckers develops-it's all free, the government pays. The dishonest barbers are having a field-day, of course-but so are the honest ones; they are working and spending like mad, trying to give every customer his heart's desire, which is a millionaire's worth of special hair care and services... the budget is out of control.
Of course, not all libertarians are Randians, who love to shock by going to the illogical extreme. Health care and hair care are about as similar as Rachel Maddow and Glenn Beck. If I thought my argument were that thin, I'd don Biden's plugs and cover them with Paul's rug.

If Rand does reconsider, he might use this as a campaign theme song, by substituting "Bald" for "Tall."

 

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