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Only In Mass.: Warren Supporters Debate Her Hair, Glasses And Image

Elizabeth Warren speaks to reporters after a tour of the Lexington Fire Department Monday. (AP)

Please check your U.S. history textbook. Has there ever been such impassioned debate among campaign activists over their candidate’s image?

If you haven’t noticed, commentaries and reader comments at WBUR and in other media have generated a great controversy: Some supporters of Elizabeth Warren think she needs a makeover and others believe she’s wonderful as she is.

Dan Payne, my Democratic counterpart, brought this simmering disagreement to a boil when he wrote a commentary, “What’s Wrong With The Warren Campaign.” Dan offered a long list of strategic and tactical recommendations, but it was his advice about image that stirred debate:

Lose the granny glasses; they’re 40 years late and add about 10 years to her age on TV. Soften the hair; the Page Boy haircut makes her seem joylessly practical. Coaching can deepen her voice, which grates on some, and make her seem less strident. With all the money she’s raised, she can afford the best coaches.

Some Warren supporters responded indignantly. They said her “joylessly practical” look was not a legitimate issue. Many wrote at length about why no one should be interested in such a non-issue and said people shouldn’t write or talk about the issue. But others could not resist the temptation of reading those comments and commenting themselves.

Unfortunately, time is running out for fashioning a less-professorial Professor Warren. She has her first debate with Sen. Scott Brown this Thursday.

To help her campaign settle image issues that her strategists have debated for months, let’s imagine a debate at Faneuil Hall between two Massachusetts politicians: John Kennedy, a pioneer in image-making, and John Adams, champion of principle over personality.

Moderator Jim Braude (host of “Broadside” on New England Cable News): John and John, I won’t bother to introduce you — people already know you from the History Channel. But let me explain the rules of the debate: Each of you will speak in sound-bites. I will interrupt whenever I have a thought. And you will stick to the topic: Should Elizabeth Warren have an image makeover?

John F. Kennedy: Thank you, Mr. Braude. It’s an honor to be here, and to represent the many Democrats who have passed on and yet fulfill their civic duty to vote and…

Moderator: I’m sorry, your time is up. Mr. Adams, your turn.

John Adams: Greetings, distinguished gentlemen, and I should add, gracious ladies…

Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Adams, but we don’t want to be patronizing. Let me pose again, to both Johns, the question of the night — image makeover or no makeover?

Kennedy: I, uh, believe that this question of image, uh, is a relevant concern for our time and place, for friends and foes alike, shedding light on vital qualities of leadership…

Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. I’m going to interpret your vague answer as being in favor of her needing a new speech coach. Let me follow up with a question. When you ran for president, some Americans were put off by your Boston accent. How’d you overcome that?

Kennedy: The idear that I had a Bawston accent and spoke in an irregulah mannah…

Moderator: Never mind. Let me ask you to be a profile in candor about your famous use of makeup in the debate with Richard Nixon. Wasn’t that the key to your winning, even more than your running mate, Lyndon Johnson, stealing the election in Texas?

Kennedy: You’re lucky that, uh, Lyndon is not here to defend his honor and sock you.

Moderator: I’m just saying that you were very styling in your day, a trend-setter. How can Elizabeth Warren exude some of that charisma? Mr. Adams, any thoughts?

Adams: Thank you for recognizing me again, kind sir, despite my frumpy façade –

Moderator: And grumpy demeanor. But that’s OK – people dig your frumpy and grumpy image. It’s old school, but it’s real. Have you ever worn a barn jacket?

Adams: That seems an odd question. As a statesman, I am not known for barn attire.

Moderator: What about your stature? You were much smaller than your opponent, Thomas Jefferson. Were you concerned about being height-challenged, image-wise? Did you go with higher heels?

Adams: I trust you do not mean what your words imply, sir.

Moderator: OK, let’s talk about words. Elizabeth Warren tries not to sound like a Harvard professor. She says stuff like “the middle class is getting hammered.” Nailed, kicked, slammed… Both of you were pretty refined in language. Was that a handicap? Did you have trouble projecting “regular guy” when your prose was a little highfalutin?

Adams: All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise not from want of honor or virtue, so much as from the downright ignorance of –

Moderator: OK, so you don’t think language is a big deal. Let’s go to questions from Twitter. Joe from Waltham asks Mr. Adams: “Should Warren follow your example and powder her hair?”

Adams: My dear sir, that is a most impertinent question.

Moderator: Yes, so take your time in answering.

Adams: I am appalled to think my hair, or lack thereof, should be a public concern –

Kennedy: If I may, Mr. Moderator, I believe I can address that question. My hair has been an issue of, uh, social interest, and my family has been responsive to press inquiries about style and spray but, uh, regarding the senate race…

Moderator: Sorry, Johns, we’ve run out of time. But this has been illuminating. Stay tuned for our special program, “Celebrity Dog Walkers: Who’s Whispering What?”

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  • Guest

    How shallow can one be?  Glasses, hair, etc. instead of her BRAIN. Only in a shallow district.  Please get real!!!!

    • razorfish

      Whatever else may be true of Elizabeth Warren, she seems to be the candidate of choice among the profoundly humorless. Guest, this column is intended to be amusing, though it’s apparent that you were not amused. Note that those most concerned about Warren’s image are people who DO admire her brains and want her to win the election. As for me, I don’t like her politics much, so I’m not likely to vote for her even if she shows up at the debate in contact lenses and a mohawk.

  • Juliana Zee

    I am a volunteer on the Warren Campaign, this is the first I have heard of any controversy about her image. I can’t help but wonder if there might be some sexism in the question. Really too professorial. She is smart as a whip and the second she opens her mouth that is obvious. Those who don’t like her are not going to be swayed by a makeover! I would like to think they are not that shallow!

  • Alta1

    It is not her image, it’s her attitude that annoys people.  She only got the position at HLS because of her husband and because she jumped in line and took the position from a genuine, deserving Native American.  This is the first election that I have noticed so many people, at the beautiful people’s Whole Foods central, aka, Fresh Pond, whispering in a conspiratorial manner how much they dislike her but are afraid to come out and say it. Even among parents during soccer games at the land of Cambridge.  Princess Fauxcahontas will have a surprise come November.  Even Obama’s coattails wont be able to save her.

  • juki654

    I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Warren but would also like to see her change her image.  I want her to win!  Go to this site and watch a few videos of Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan http://current.com/shows/the-war-room/.   I think with some professional help EW could look much like her, and be a much more appealing candidate.

    It’s very hard for women candidates to win in Massachusetts, and it is beyond me why she wouldn’t use every advantage possible.  Isn’t there a ton of research showing that people tend to find attractive people more appealing?  Really, when I watched Elizabeth at the Democratic convention, I was appalled.  She looked like some grim old lady.  And, I repeat, I love her politics and want her to win!  C’mon, Elizabeth!!

  • Yolanda

    Elizabeth Warren page boy hair cut, her granny glasses, and her looks fit her very well, thank you.  I think she has matured into a graceful pretty lady.  And most important, she is smart, knowledgable, and wants what is good for the people…..VOTE FOR ELIZABETH WARREN!

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