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Last Sunday my spouse and I invited a few pals over to help celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. As part of the festivities, we dug out our wedding pictures; it had been a reasonably conventional hippie wedding, performed on a sailboat by a slightly seasick preacher from Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.

My spouse was a gorgeous young woman, and I thought I looked pretty good too, complete with a mop of curly hair and a fiery red beard. That was not, however, an opinion shared by some of our guests on Sunday, one of whom said, "My God! You looked just like the Unabomber!"

Her remark made me think about a couple of prominent politicians: Al Gore and Tom Strickland.

If you happened to catch the recent photos of the almost-president cavorting in Europe, complete with scraggly salt-and-pepper beard and big old tummy, you probably came to the same conclusion that I did: This guy's finished with politics.

He looks like an amiable college professor, the kind of guy whose lectures would send anybody to dreamland. For a politician, growing a beard is like farting in church; it's a way of telling the voters that you do what you please, and to hell with 'em.

Poor old Al. If it weren't for that funny little 18th-century anomaly called the Electoral College, he'd be sitting in the Oval Office, and George W. would be signing death warrants in Texas.

Tom Strickland, in case you didn't know, is the Democrat who ran against Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard in '96 and wants to try again in '02.

In most respects, Strickland's a campaign manager's dream: politically moderate, smart, articulate. He's got a perfect family and a good resume (as Colorado's U.S. Attorney, he's spent the last few years respectably putting the bad guys in jail).

Even in this increasingly Republican state, he'd have a reasonable chance of beating Allard and taking a seat in the U.S. Senate, except for one furry little problem ... The Mustache.

That's right. He's got one, and it's a real doozy: thick, luxuriant lip fur, which he probably believes makes him look impossibly manly and distinguished, kind of like Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind.

Trouble is, voters, while having discarded many of their ancient prejudices (against blacks, women, Hispanics, etc., etc.), stubbornly cling to at least one: They don't much care for facial hair.

I don't know that the pollsters have ever surveyed this particular issue, but most seasoned political analysts (that is, me and my friends) believe that if Tom persists in writing off the anti-'stache vote, it will cost him three to five percentage points.

The only member of Congress with a lip fuzzy that I can think of is Colorado's Scott McInnis. But McInnis represents mostly the Western Slope, where you can get away with things like that. And McInnis effectively distracted voters a few years back when he, with the help of the hair lightener Sun-In, transformed himself from regular guy with brownish hair to a silkily seductive blonde.

Maybe Strickland sees himself as a fearless crusader for the hairy minority ... and why not? The past is full of mustachioed pols who managed to win elections. Hitler comes to mind. So does Grover Cleveland.

Anyway, Allard's staff ought to carefully monitor Strickland's 'stache. If it comes off, they've got a serious opponent. If not, they'll have the luxury of running against an aging narcissist who's more attached to the reflection in the mirror than to victory in November.

And speaking of aging narcissists, I see that Bill Clinton is all set to pocket $10 million or so for his memoirs. One publisher was quoted this week saying the price would depend upon whether it would be a personal or a political memoir.

In other words, we don't care about Yasser & Ehud & Boris; we want the fun stuff: Monica & Gennifer & Paula and maybe lots more that we don't even know about!! So that's what it's come to: The brilliant young president whose eight years in office might have assured the Dems of political dominance for a generation is just another celeb peddling a smutty book.

And just to make matters even worse for the Dems, it looks as if George W. isn't the semi-literate, syntax-mangling Texas buffoon that they had so hoped for. Doesn't matter whether he's well-advised or just buzzard-lucky; he's been on quite a roll lately.

Thinking ahead, just imagine a 2004 matchup between George W. and any of the sorry crop of retreads and windbags that currently "lead" the Democratic Party.

Oh well, at least Tom Strickland can deliver the pro-facial hair vote for the national party ... you gotta start somewhere.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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