For some it's abortion. For others, gun control, the death penalty, the war in Iraq. For Washington state retiree Wade Holbrook, though, it's, well, haircut prices.
The issue came to Holbrook's attention shortly after Politico reporter Ben Smith publicized the exorbitant salon bill of Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards on April 16. "I think I first read about Edwards' $400 do in the Post," Holbrook reports. "I was shocked by the revelation of such irresponsible and hypocritical spending, but I didn't think much more about it."
Not immediately, anyway. But sometime between the tenth and fifteenth Washington Post stories alluding to Edwards' pricey patronage of Torrenueva Hair Designs, Holbrook developed more than a passing interest in the cost of candidates' haircuts. The media's excessive coverage of the Edwards story-a mid-July Nexis search for "John Edwards and haircut and $400" returned no fewer than 894 hits-seems to have fueled Holbrook's nascent obsession. "Soon he started reminding me of those psychopaths you see in movies," Holbrook's wife Deborah recalls, her eyes wide at the very thought of the transformation. "By the time he had covered the refrigerator with clippings of haircut stories, I knew it was serious."
Even the briefest of conversations with Wade confirms Deborah Holbrook's assessment. "I realize now how much you can tell about a person from the price of his haircut," he explains. "That single number allows you to gauge his fiscal responsibility-or lack thereof-the importance he places on such superficialities as keeping up appearances. And if you have a little more information-whether he goes to a barber or a stylist, a mom-and-pop or a chain-you can tell even more. His commitment to supporting small businesses, for example. Or preserving small-town America."
Holbrook's perhaps eccentric views on the significance of the haircut issue have prompted him to take a stand likely unprecedented in the annals of American democracy: in every race where his voter eligibility permits it, he will cast his vote for the candidate sporting the cheapest haircut. Holbrook has already started checking up on would-be local officials, the marginalia in his King County Local Voters' Pamphlet meticulously cataloging candidate sightings outside Seattle area salons. "I'm confident I'll have all the data I need before the month is out, " Holbrook says.
Equipping himself for informed participation in next year's presidential primary, however, will likely take Holbrook a bit longer. Unsatisfied with the incomplete listing of candidate haircut prices compiled by Peter Sasso and posted on HumanEvents.com in mid July, the Seattleite vows to travel the country shadowing each of the presidential hopefuls in succession. "You can't take the campaign's word for it that Huckabee spends $15 for a trim," Holbrook scoffs, highlighting the flaws in Sasso's data collection techniques. " You've got to tail the guy and see for yourself how much he pays for the spruce-up."
While political scientists applaud the fervor evident in this and others of Holbrook's remarks, they do worry that it is misdirected. "He's certainly taking political involvement and the idea of an informed electorate to a new level," concedes University of Washington's Mark Wilkerson. "But I think the question we should be asking is not 'How much does John Edwards pay for a haircut?' but 'Why do political candidates put such a premium on their appearance?' or 'What does it say about America that we have news stories about Michelle Obama's lack of make-up and Chris Dodd's white hair?' Has television had a deleterious effect on American politics? Is it true, we might wonder, that height is positively correlated to election success?"
Not in a (nonexistent) nation of Wade Holbrooks. By Peter Sasso's admittedly imperfect reckoning, it is Dennis Kucinich, standing a meager 5'7", who will get Holbrook's vote in February 2008. The Ohio democrat reportedly pays his barber only $4 a pop.
But what if Holbrook discovers, say, that Rudy Giuliani gets his cuts gratis (courtesy of his third wife wielding a Wahl clipper, perhaps)? Lifelong democrat though he is, this new species of single-issue voter pledges to adhere to the course his haircut compass dictates. "This trumps party loyalty," Holbrook opines. "And with Washington state's pick-a-party primary, there's nothing to stop me from voting for the smallest spender, regardless of which side of the aisle he's on."