Just when you thought no mane could out-tease Donald Trump’s flying carpet, another presidential candidate’s hair has become a top topic of criticism.
Of course, the hair belongs to Hillary Clinton. For one thing, many of the other presidential candidates don’t have much hair to criticize. Second, since Hillary Hair has been the subject of so much discussion during the past two decades, lots of us figure either Clinton or Trump must be involved if a politician’s coiffure is being singed by the blow dryer of public opinion.
However, the current clatter is not about her hairstyle. Which is a somewhat welcome break. No, this time the media universe is full of chat about the cost (apparently $600, including shampoo and style) of Clinton’s recent cut at New York’s very stylish John Barrett Salon.
Clinton is not the only politician, male or female, to suffer in the expensive haircut woodshed. Bill Clinton was scissored in 1993 when he got a $200 trim (about $330 in today’s money) aboard Air Force One. Former presidential candidate John Edwards was cut up in 2007 for a $400 snip. Even Jackie Kennedy’s much imitated bouffant tresses were shredded by some for being too European as well as too Park Avenue pricey.
The bottom line is that none of this talk is really about Hillary’s hair, though some of it may concern her emails from her time as secretary of state (including a few that mentioned Santa, her Chappaqua, N.Y. ,hairdresser). What it is about is the matter of politicians who want to lead us but who do not live like most of us.
Some of the fuss concerns the not optimal optics of a presidential candidate spending as much on a cut/shampoo/style as many Americans earn in one week (or two) in a country not yet fully recovered from the Great Recession. The hard truth is that for as much as some would like to see presidents, presidential candidates and their spouses shop at outlet stores, go on tent camping vacations at national parks and get their hair done at low-cost strip mall salons (which Edwards allegedly did in the costly aftermath of his love-child revelations), we are much more likely to see Donald Trump unveil an Austin Powers-style campaign plane than to witness Secret Service sedans depositing passengers like Hillary Clinton at discount stores.
This tremendous national desire to want presidents and their families to be like ordinary, middle-income Americans is not a new thing. And it’s a very understandable desire. In democracies, people want those who lead most of us to be like most of us. Except, perhaps, to be better at things like making speeches and finessing foreign leaders. And though millions of us don’t like our current political structure one bit, we have a system that fosters campaigns that never, ever end and requires even wealthy candidates (most definitely including Clinton and much of the rest of the present 2016 presidential assortment) to never, ever stop raising money. All of this makes it tough for “average” people with “average” incomes to even dream they could afford the time away from real jobs that provide health insurance in order to shake hands for years in the diners of Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond. And then charm the elites enough to raise the millions and billions needed to make a serious presidential run.
The last president who had, at the time of his election, an income closest to what most Americans might call average was none other than Bill Clinton. Though Hillary Clinton famously said she and the former president left the White House “dead broke,” they did not go on youth hostel holidays during their eight years at 1600 Pennsylvania or dress in clearance specials. I’m not sure the chattering classes or ordinary Americans would have reacted all that positively had they done so. Jimmy Carter was one president who tried to live more like an ordinary American and was mocked for attempting to look “ordinary” while carrying his own garment bag, sending his daughter to public school and not forcing his wife to buy a new inaugural gown.
What all of this comes down to is the fact that most presidential candidates are multimillionaires. Most modern era presidents have been multimillionaires. For every American multimillionaire who lives in a modest studio apartment and uses coupons, there are a whole lot more who live in a style their money can buy with ease. If we want truly average people to become president, we need to build a system that permits them to do so without going broke or being susceptible to graft.
As for Hillary Clinton, expensive hair notwithstanding, she’s got bigger things to mind on her server. Thought she might console herself with words spoken by none other than Ivana Trump, Donald Trump’s first wife: “Gorgeous hair is the best revenge.”
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”
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