On Monday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters once and for all that he won't run for president in 2016 (or did he?). The New York Times noted on Tuesday morning that we should have known this was coming.


Source: The New York Times

The beard was a clue.

(Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

There are few things that fascinate the media more than presidential candidates and facial hair — or their lack thereof. (I have previously covered Ryan's facial hair as the Fix's chief beard correspondent.)


Source: The Asheville Citizen, October 1888

The world would happily give up Joe Biden quotes and pictures of the president hanging out with cute kids or Chuck Grassley tweets if only a presidential candidate could have a beard. Alas, as the New York Times and every other news outlet has pointed out, the world is not ready for such a thing — and has rarely been throughout American history.


Source: The New York Times, September 2004

Source: Slate, April 2012

Source: National Journal, October 2013

Source: The Guardian, December 2014

Source: LA Times, April 1971

Source: El Paso Herald, January 1916

Source: The Great Falls Leader, July 1888

The Obama administration realizes there is a thirst for a bearded president. Its April Fools Day prank last year involved the announcement of a new President's Council on Beards.

Regardless, the White House has not seen a beard since William Howard Taft. Harry Truman dared to grow facial hair only on vacation.


Source: Wikipedia

There have been presidential candidates with facial hair in the past century. We do not remember them.


Source: The Washington Post; June 1948

As you can see from the clips above, the depression caused by our hairless leaders is not new. In 1944, the New York Times looked at the data and grew despondent.


Source: NYT, August 1944

The article accompanying this chart laid out a many reasons why the country should consider electing a new mustache -- er, mustachioed -- president.


Source: NYT, August 1944

Twenty-two years later, Kansas built a monument honoring Grace Bedell Billings, who single-handedly caused a beard to spontaneously apparate onto Abraham Lincoln's face.


Source: New York Times, August 1966

Shaving has its political downsides, too, as President Teddy Roosevelt found out when the House Appropriations Committee began investigating the fact that his daily shave was being done on the taxpayer's dime.


Source: Library of Congress newspaper, January 1909

We like to pretend that politics is driven by the thoughtful consideration of the electorate, by reactions to international crises and domestic successes. In our moments of utter honesty, we wonder if it might all be about gaffes and "takes." Politics is about neither of these things. It is now and has forever been driven by facial hair. Unless, at some point in the future, diversity in Congress starts to mean something other than "It's now only 80 percent male," and more than one woman in the country is considered a viable presidential candidate.