Before President Obama’s election five years ago, there were plenty of people who would tell you the country wasn’t ready for a black president. Obama proved them wrong, and now he can do it again by ignoring the naysayers (including his own wife) by proving that this country is ready for another kind of president again: a bearded one.
“I tried to grow a beard, but Michelle, she wasn’t having it,” the president said in Boston on Wednesday, remarking on the Red Sox’ illustrious and feared World Series beards. On Twitter, the comment drew applause and requests that Obama actually grow whiskers.
It’s been 120 years since our last bearded president, Benjamin Harrison, left office, and there are now just a small handful of beards in Congress. Ben Bernanke and Grover Norquist have had to go it almost alone among powerful Washingtonians for most of the 21st century. Mustaches have fared a bit better, with several dozen members of Congress and one Cabinet member (Attorney General Eric Holder) sporting the look. William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt both sported robust handlebars, but our last presidential candidate with a full beard lost in 1916.
Beards are increasingly visible on TV and in cities and workplaces across the country, so why not the marble corridors of Washington?
The late 1800s were the golden era for facial hair in American politics, when during one stretch, four out of five presidents — Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James Garfield—all proudly carried out their duties with full beards.
Harry Truman, in a heady moment of postwar, post-reelection exultation, flirted with — and seemed to quite enjoy — the first full presidential beard since daguerreotypes went out of fashion. Days after he won the election in November 1948, the president retreated to Key West. “President relaxes and grows a beard,” ran the headline in LIFE Magazine:
“Then, out at the Navy base along the cool blue sea, he took his ease. He got into a linen sport shirt…and let his silver whiskers begin to sprout. When [Vice President] Alben Barkley dropped in for a visit…the President look so relaxed as to be momentarily unrecognizable to his running mate. By the next day, [Truman] had had enough beard to begin speculating on how it would look when full grown. But the President of the U.S. is subject to some very human restraints — Mrs. Truman joined him and the whiskers disappeared.”
His beard never quite made it to fruition, but it resembled Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn’s come-and-mostly-go beard.
One group today is at least trying to get more beards in politics. The Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy, or BEARD PAC, which formed this year, hopes to help elect full-bearded candidates in the 2014 election (so far, it’s only raised $52 as of its latest FEC report).
But the PAC’s Andy Shapero is withholding judgment on Obama’s facial-hair prospects, since BEARD PAC is “firmly focused on its mission to elect bearded individuals, and as President Obama is currently term limited.” Shapero did encourage National Journal to focus on candidates “who sport both a full beard and a savvy mind full of growth-oriented policy positions that will move our great nation towards a more lush and magnificent future.”
Will Obama be a part of that future? Probably not anytime soon. But we’ll check back on Jan. 21, 2017, somewhere on a golf course in Hawaii.
What We're Following See More »
Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”
"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.
"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."
"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.