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California and the West | THE WASHINGTON CONNECTION

Failure Is Just a Few Bad Hair Days Away

October 27, 1998|FAYE FIORE

They say the eyes are the window to the soul. But in politics, the eyes mean zip. It's the hair.

Take Gray Davis. Polls show he is on his way to becoming California's first Democratic governor in 16 years. He has excellent hair (we know this from his hairdresser of 30 years, who talked).

Then take his Republican opponent, Dan Lungren. He is tanking in the polls, and he has bad hair (details to come).

We aren't making this up. Reference a recent letter to this newspaper from reader J.R. Gribble of San Diego, concluding that Davis' success is rooted less in his command of the issues than in his opponent's appearance:

"Lungren displays the classic markers of the conservative zealot--the know-it-all smirk, the messianic gleam in his eyes. The 1950s hairstyle doesn't help."

Politicians have always suspected good grooming is key to getting elected, but not until the advent of television did it really sink in. Remember the great presidential debate of 1960, which boiled down to Richard Nixon's 5 o'clock shadow versus John F. Kennedy's amazing hair?

Now our own Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer changes her haircut more often than her shoes, the last time smack in the middle of the June primary when she left a Saturday afternoon coffee with one do and showed up at a Sunday morning church service with another.

Our other own Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has hairdressers on two coasts with a standing appointment every Tuesday in Washington. While Boxer prefers a more tailored behind-the-ear cut, Feinstein goes for volume.

"She likes it puffy. . . . When it isn't puffy, she thinks it doesn't look right," one confidant noted.


When C-SPAN descended on Washington and started televising the House of Representatives in 1979 and the more reluctant Senate seven years later, there were fears that politicians might become so appearance-obsessed they would forget all about public policy.

Right away some of them showed up in TV-friendly red ties and blue non-glare shirts. Now they always button their jackets before they walk onto the floor, and recently the still mostly male Senate had the cameras moved from the elevated gallery to a below-the-hairline angle.

Guess why.

"If a member is balding, that's the last area they want focused on," one Senate official said. "Now they hide the cameras behind the presiding officer's desk."

The benefits of an attractive appearance are not wasted on some members of Congress, even in Washington, where the J.C. Penney catalog is the definitive word on style. However, we emphasize the qualifier some.

It has been proposed that if a 17th Smithsonian museum is ever dedicated in the nation's capital, it should be a Hall of Bad Haircuts. Rep. James A. Traficant (D-Ohio), for example, is renowned for a "Planet of the Apes" sort of hair helmet that looks like a toupee but isn't, comes to a point on top and is widely considered the most unusual hair in all of Congress. And get this: His wife is a hairdresser.

He would have to share the museum's "Is It a Rug or Isn't It?" corner with Rep. James Rogan (R-Glendale), whose hair is sparse on the sides and bountiful on top (also his real hair).


When will they ever learn that this is a credibility thing? Think about it. In six years Hillary Rodham Clinton has trotted out a puzzling range of styles from dowdy to elegant. But whenever her husband is up to his ducktail in scandal, her hair looks fabulous. Instant credibility.

Mary Bono's long, lightened locks recently graced the cover of Capital Style magazine with the headline: "Partly Sonny and Hot." Shortly thereafter, she went short and dark in a look that, along with elegant designer suits, is both hip and credible.

Her appearance evolution has not been lost on others. One Washington observer recalls Bono showed up two years ago at a Washington event wearing something with cows on it. "But at least it wasn't a vest with fur," he noted.

The hair says so much. That mantra has helped make Joe Gonzalez of Eddie Carroll's hair salon in Beverly Hills stylist to politicians and stars for three decades, which is how long he's been doing Davis. He also does Milton Berle.

"'If you saw a politician with their hair too long, you would consider them a hippie. If it's too short, they are military. It is extremely important," says Gonzalez, who trims Davis once a week whenever they can arrange it, sometimes at midnight, sometimes at home, sometimes in the shop, $45.

"Gray's hair is fabulous," he says, while Dan Lungren, whose hair is dark, wavy and receding high on his forehead a la Queen Elizabeth I, "has a major problem."

Hence the polls.

"There are about 100 things you need to get elected," Gonzalez tells us. "Good hair is one of them."

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