Let us now contemplate Mitt Romney’s hair.
Actually, let us now join the crowd contemplating Mitt Romney’s hair.
The growing crowd. The would-be First Hair made the front page of Friday’s New York Times. At a debate in Michigan a couple of weeks ago, the blogosphere responded to a few uncharacteristically stray Romney locks as if they were loose nukes.
And when late-night television host Jimmy Fallon asked presidential rival Michele Bachmann recently what comes to mind when she thinks of Romney, she answered, perhaps inevitably: “Hair.”
I was thinking about writing something on income inequality, but really, in a post-Thanksgiving turkey coma, why fight the hair thing?
As a matter of gender equity, we should embrace this development. The history of political hair suggests that, for male politicians, hair focus is a matter of self-inflicted wounds. Think Bill Clinton and the fancy Hollywood hairdresser on the airport tarmac. John Edwards primping and rearranging his locks for minutes in front of the mirror — and that was before his unfortunate $400 cut.
For female politicians, on the other hand, hair comes with the territory. How many stories over the years have been devoted to Hillary Clinton’s changing hairstyles? “In the middle of the next big crisis, whatever it is, I’m cutting my hair,” Clinton said a few months ago. “And believe me, we won’t be reading about what war is going on.” Personally, I liked it shorter.
Then there was the unfortunate episode involving California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina’s on-camera cattiness about Democratic rival Barbara Boxer’s do: “God, what is that hair? Sooo yesterday.”
Truth is, we all notice hair — candidates’, celebrities’, our daughters’ that would look better out of their faces. The seeming national obsession with Romney’s hair reflects a welcome gender-neutral application of this principle.
Then there is the unavoidable matter of hair-as-metaphor. As Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker wrote in the Times, Romney’s “head of impeccably coiffed black hair has become something of a cosmetological Rorschach test on the campaign trail, with many seeing in his thick locks everything they love and loathe about the Republican candidate for the White House. (Commanding, reassuring, presidential, crow fans; too stiff, too slick, too perfect, complain critics.)”
It would be easy to dismiss this as mere backseat barbering, over-interpreting trivial choices, but listen to Romney’s own barber: “He wants a look that is very controlled,” Leon de Magistris told the Times. “He is a very controlled man. The hair goes with the man.”
When he advises Romney “to mess it up a little bit,” de Magistris said, the candidate resists.
Perhaps incorrectly. Reviewing the Michigan debate performance, my colleague Jennifer Rubin observed of Romney, “He was a bit looser and feistier than usual; perhaps some stray hair made him seem more relaxed and less programmed.” Indeed, in preparing for his first presidential run four years ago, the Romney campaign listed the candidate’s too-perfect hair as a potential downside.
Sometimes a hairdo is only a hairdo. But in Romney’s case, it may also be an insight — into ourselves and what we are searching for in a president, no doubt, but also into the candidate himself.