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Why Aren't There Any Bearded Politicians?

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Abraham Lincoln
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Take a look around halls of power in Washington, D.C.: There are very few bearded politicians in Congress. And there hasn't been a bearded president since the 1800s. What's the deal? Why aren't there any bearded politicians anymore?

Being clean-shaven wasn't always the norm. There are plenty of bearded politicians in U.S. political history. They include presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant and Rutherford Hayes.

No More Beards

The last president to wear a beard in office was Benjamin Harrison, who served from March 1889 to March 1893.

The last U.S. president to wear any facial hair was William Howard Taft, who sported a mustache during his term in the White House from March 1909 to March 1913.

The last beard-wearing member of a major party to run for president was Republican Charles Evans Hughes in 1916. He lost.

The beard, like every fad, fades and re-emerges in popularity. Lincoln, perhaps America's most famous bearded politician, was the first president to wear a beard in office. But he began his candidacy clean-shaven and only grew his facial hair at the request of an 11-year-old schoolgirl, Grace Bedell.

Times have changed, though. Very few people beg political candidates, presidents or members of Congress to grow facial hair since the 1800s. The New Statesman summed up the state of facial hair since then: "Bearded men enjoyed all of the privileges of bearded women."

Hippies and Communists

In 1930, three decades after the invention of the safety razor made shaving safe and easy, the author Edwin Valentine Mitchell wrote that, "In this regimented age the simple possession of a beard is enough to mark as curious any young man who has the courage to grow one."

After the 1960s, when beards were popular among hippies, facial hair grew even more unpopular among politicians, many of whom wanted to distance themselves from the counterculture.

There were very few bearded politicians in politics because candidates and elected officials did not want to appear as either Communists or hippies, according to Slate.com's Justin Peters.

"For many years, wearing a full beard marked you as the sort of fellow who had Das Kapital stashed somewhere on his person," Peters wrote in 2012.

"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."

Author A.D. Perkins, writing in his 2001 book One Thousand Beards: a Cultural History of Facial Hair, notes that modern-day politicians are routinely instructed by their advisers and other handlers to "remove all traces of facial hair" before launching a campaign for fear of resembling "Lenin and Stalin (or Marx for that matter)."

"The beard has been the kiss of death for Western politicians ..." Perkins writes.

Bearded Politicians in Modern Day

The absence of bearded politicians has not gone unnoticed. In 2013 a group called the Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy launched a political action committee whose aim is to support political candidates with 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."

The BEARD PAC claimed that "individuals with the dedication to grow and maintain a quality beard are the kinds of individuals that would show dedication to the job of public service."

Said BEARD PAC founder Jonathan Sessions: "With the resurgence of beards in popular culture and among today’s younger generation, we believe the time is now to bring facial hair back into politics."

The BEARD PAC determines whether to offer financial support to a political campaign only after submitting the candidate to its review committee, which investigates the "quality and longevity" of their beards.

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