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[whitespace] Bald Facts

Can you trust a candidate with bad hair?

By John F. Murphy

SHALL I PART my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? As a college student, I didn't quite know what J. Alfred Prufrock was talking about. In my 30s, I figured it out--but that didn't stop me from making fun of men who grew their hair long on the side and swept it all across their otherwise shiny domes. The ones with weaves, hairpieces, even the ones who dyed their hair--when I was young, I made fun of all of them. Didn't they realize how obvious they were?

During the Clinton impeachment hearings, Jeff Greenfield wrote a whimsical column directed at Kenneth Starr. He suggested that the appropriate thing to do with some of the congressmen on the panel was to make wise-ass remarks about their toupees. A few weeks ago, on Hannity and Combs, one of the panelists--who, if memory serves, was a guest from the right-wing pool--got off a parting shot about how bad he thought his left-wing opponent's toupee was. Even Hannity was embarrassed.

This got me thinking: Should wearing a hairpiece in public make someone fair game? Does the public deserve to know about follicular fraud? Should television commentators like Sam Donaldson be compelled to voice what every viewer in America is thinking, i.e.: "How do you expect us to take you seriously when you're wearing that God-awful rug?"

Before you conclude that this would be crass, hear me out: If a congressman cannot be honest about what is happening on his very own roof, then how can we trust him to be honest about Medicare or Social Security? Also, how can we trust a person who clearly lacks the kind of friends or advisers who'd dare tell him the truth? ("George--the rug sucks.") Do we want people who are so out of touch running the country?

I left my 30s behind long ago, and sadly, I now find myself doing the same thing with my hair that I used to laugh at.

I've become pretty adept at it--shower, blow dry, fluff up, and over it goes. So I'm sort of an expert. I've become quite good at spotting the various hairpieces, weaves, transplants, and dye jobs that are inflicted upon us on a daily basis over the years.

LET'S BEGIN with our president. Some days it looks like he's pulling a Bob Barker on The Price Is Right by allowing it to go white. Most of the time, though, he looks as if he's gotten into grandma's blue-hair rinse. My suspicion is that he's trying to make the transition gradually and avoid the mistake Hubert Humphrey made in '68 when he was running for president (in January his hair was white; in August, it was black). But Clinton has been president for almost seven years. How gradual can you get?

Now to Congress. Availing myself of pictures I found on the Internet, I conducted my own survey of all the toupees, transplants, weaves, and hairpieces in the United States Senate.

Out of our current 99 senators, I found 97, and took away for statistical purposes the nine women (to whom we'll return when we revisit the dye issue) as well as Ben Nighthorse Campbell (who enjoys a hair surplus). That left me with a base of 87, from which I've concluded that there are two transplants, eight hairpieces, and the possibility of 12 additional variations on hair augmentation or enhancement in the Senate.

Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., are the transplant leaders. Thurmond, who was born in 1902, is at 97, probably entitled to all the plugs and brown hair and cosmetic surgery his heart desires. Just keep him away from foreign policy. William Roth, R-Del., has what must be the most egregious wig in the Senate, but you have to give him credit for at least going with gray, in keeping with his 78 years. Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., with his rugged movie star looks (well, he kind of looks like Wallace Beery), has the second-worst toupee; although Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, looks as if his is the one that covers the most territory.

Statistically, what the numbers mean is that 10 to 22 percent of all our male senators have engaged in some sort of cover-up.

Trent Lott came up as a questionable. (On this one issue, he received my wife Johanna's vote for the very first time, but I have my doubts.) Even if whatever's on his head is neither a weave nor a hairpiece, a fair and impartial assessment of his head would lead most to conclude that Lott's barber is trying to exact some weird kind of revenge--and succeeding admirably.

How has this singular fact, this explosion of artifice, gone unnoticed on Sunday after Sunday of punditry? Does Sam Donaldson carry that much weight? Shouldn't our media watchdogs at least notice that, at this critical stage of our history, one out of every six or seven senators is a member of the Hair Club for Men?

Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to analyze all 435 members of U.S. House, but I thought I'd mention that John Mica, R-Fla., who's been on C-Span around the clock for the past several weeks, is pretty close to the top of my ugly list.

As I said before, my own hair experiments have made me an expert in recognizing the hair deceptions of others. For example, after dyeing my hair, blow-drying it, and sweeping it across my pate, I notice a "half-eyebrow" effect caused by wayward dye. What happens is that the dye rolls off the dome and comes to rest at the peak of each eyebrow, which is then darkened. Thus, the half-eyebrow effect--which I've spotted on Warren Beatty, Larry King, former President George Bush, and Bill Bradley.

By my rough count, 38 senators, including women, dye their hair. I can't tell you the ADA ratings and the Chamber of Commerce ratings of the ones who have changed colors, or the ones who are wearing rugs or have had weaves, for that matter. But wouldn't it be exciting to see an in-depth article on this burning issue? Spice it up with before-and-after shots, as they do on makeover shows.

Timely? A few weeks ago, Charlton Heston made yet another appearance before Congress as president of the NRA to argue--with his resonant voice and terrible toupee--that handguns are harmless. That same day, George W. Bush came up short when asked to name the leaders of Chechnya, Pakistan, India and Taiwan. While the jury is still out on whether he was ambushed, what really caught my eye was the God-awful wig on the reporter who asked him the questions.

Will no one address this national epidemic? Better still: If Naomi Wolf was getting $15,000 a month to tell Al Gore how to dress, shouldn't every serious candidate get someone to tell him the truth about his hair?

I'm available. I'll be out walking upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids talking, each to each. I do not think that they will talk to me.


This story first appeared on Salon, an online magazine at www.salon.com.

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From the January 13-19, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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