Respect the ‘stache!

Roger Clegg over at NRO points out something I hadn’t considered. Eric Holder’s nomination as the next Attorney General, if approved by the Senate (as it almost certainly will), would mark the first time an African-American has served as Attorney General. Historic, of course. However, Clegg puts his finger on something of far greater consequence: Holder would be the first Attorney General in 100 years with facial hair.

More on the history leading up to Holder’s tearing his way through the hair ceiling below the break.

Anyone who has noticed the photo at Witsnapper’s upper right can imagine why this is an issue near and dear to my heart. Could this mark the beginning of the end of the heartbreaking prejudice against high government officials with facial hair? And I’m not talking about Cabinet secretaries way down on the ladder, such as Bush 43 Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson or Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich (in fairness, Reich’s perpetually scruffy and rumpled look didn’t do us much good in the public eye). No, I’m looking at the offices of President, Vice President, and the “Big Four” Cabinet posts — State, Treasury, Defense, and Attorney General.

Among Eric Holder’s predecessors, you have to go back a century to find one who isn’t clean-shaven. Teddy Roosevelt’s appointed Attorneys General, William Henry Moody and Charles Joseph Bonaparte, both had sturdy mustaches. William McKinley’s Joseph McKenna (later of the Supreme Court) had a beard with no mustache; the last AG to have a full beard was the rather dashing Charles Devens, from way back in the Hayes Administration (Devens left office in 1881).

Of the remaining high offices I mentioned:

President: No facial hair since William Howard Taft; no beards since Benjamin Harrison.

Vice President: No facial hair since Charles Curtis (Hoover); no beards since Charles Fairbanks (T. Roosevelt). Note: Fairbanks limited himself to an abundant Vandyke, no full beards since Schuyler Colfax (Grant).

SecState: No facial hair since Dean Acheson (Truman); no beards since Charles Evans Hughes (Harding, Coolidge).

SecTreas: No facial hair since Andrew Mellon (Hoover); no beards since Lyman J. Gage (McKinley, T. Roosevelt).

SecDef/SecWar: No facial hair since Henry L. Stimson (Taft, F.D. Roosevelt, Truman); no beards since Russell A. Alger (McKinley). Note: Again, Vandyke alert on Alger. No full beards since Redfield Proctor (B. Harrison).

It appears that the public appetite for bearded high officials died with World War I, and for officials with facial hair in general with World War II. However, given the resurgence of the hirsute in the Cabinets of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama, I notice something else. These are the three post-Cold War presidents. Could politicians’ skittishness about facial hair have had something to do with the images propagated by our 20th-century global adversary?

The end of bearded officials coincides roughly with Russia’s Communist Revolution and the ascendance of the nattily goateed Vladimir Lenin, and the end of the mustache as an accessory among our officials came at about the same time as the rise of the heavily mustachioed Josef Stalin. It’s entirely possible that American politicians began avoiding beards and mustaches to deny their opponents an important talking point: “Look at him! He even looks like a damn commie!”

For those proud American patriots who go unshorn perhaps because, just for random example, we look 12 years old when clean-shaven, the eventual shedding of this stereotype — heralded by the appointment of Eric Holder — will come as welcome relief indeed.

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