The beard’s absence from modern American politics can be partially blamed on the two scourges of the 20th century: Communists and hippies. For many years, wearing a full beard marked you as the sort of fellow who had Das Kapital stashed somewhere on his person. In the 1960s, the more-or-less concurrent rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba and student radicals at home reinforced the stereotype of beard-wearers as America-hating no-goodniks. The stigma persists to this day: No candidate wants to risk alienating elderly voters with a gratuitous resemblance to Wavy Gravy.
…And yet, though beards might not be all that common, they’re actually well received among the general population. “I do a lot of work with visual communications, facial expressions, how people read faces,” says Jeff Jacobs. “Facial hair poses no distraction or causes no aversions whatsoever.” Academic research bears this out: In a 1990 paper for the journal Social Behavior and Personality, J. Ann Reed and Elizabeth M. Blunk reported “consistently more positive perceptions of social/physical attractiveness, personality, competency, and composure for men with facial hair.” More recently, researchers Barnaby J, Dixson and Paul L. Vasey rejected the notion that “facial hair decreases a male’s perceived social status because it is associated with traits such as vagrancy.” In fact, participants in their study “rated bearded men as having higher social status than clean-shaven men.”
Whatever, man, whatever. I’m the type of fellow who shudders in horror at an assertion like Eric Hobsbawm’s that politics could ever have anything to do with being a “key to our truths as well as our myths.” I mean, I suppose it’s true, though I would suggest a less-aspirational phrase like “the distillation of all base convention” instead. There are many who affect an ironic embrace of their own marginalization while still yearning to see it validated and affirmed by someone with power and influence, but I’m not one of them. The last thing I would want to see is a president who shares my taste and appearance, ye gads.