Peggy Noonan on John Edwards’ Hair Poofing

Peggy Noonan sizes up the presidential field for “Reasonable Person” qualities and passes all of the major candidates except Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

Her reasoning on Clinton is, frankly, unreasonable: Because she’s polarizing, she wouldn’t be able to rally the nation in a crisis. By that standard, of course, the current president isn’t “reasonable,” either. This is silly on two fronts. First, reasonableness and popularity are completely different qualities; one doesn’t judge one by invoking the other. Second, as we saw after the 9/11 attacks, the nation will rally around a polarizing leader during times of crisis.

Her judgment on Edwards is even lamer:

All the Democrats would raise taxes as president, but Mr. Edwards’s populism is the worst of both worlds, both intemperate and insincere. Also we can’t have a president who spent two minutes on YouTube staring in a mirror and poofing his hair. Really, we just can’t.

She’s right on the populism but the hair comments are rather juvenile for someone deigning to “speak for thousands, millions” of “grown-ups.” Any of us would look silly caught performing our grooming rituals on tape.

Glenn Greenwald, though, sees something more sinister here.

John Edwards, however, is disqualified, because four years ago, he was caught red-handed brushing his hair before a television appearance — “poofing,” in Noonan’s words, which isn’t really a word at all, but rather, a British epithet for a male homosexual — “Slang: Disparaging and Offensive” — a synonym for “faggot.” Noonan is making the same point Ann Coulter made: Edwards can’t possibly be President because he’s a faggot. And to make her “grown-up” case for this, she cites one of our national media’s most talked-about political stories of both 2004 and again in 2007: Edwards’ brushing of his hair.

Well . . . no.

It’s true that there’s a well-known British slang that takes the forms poof, poofta, or poofter. So far as I’m aware, though, there’s no gerund form of that word.

There is, however, a (somewhat dated) American expression of “poofing” used to refer to making one’s hair fluff out. A Google search for “poofing hair” returns over 5000 results. “Poofing” returns over 50,000 results; through the first five pages at least, none seem to have anything to do with gayness, whereas several refer to styling one’s hair.

Noonan is guilty here of being banal rather than tawdry. It’s the opposite of Coulterism, really.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Haven’t read your Saul Alinsky lately, have you, James?

    Glenn Greenwald has been radicalized with respect to gay-bashing. The practical implication of that is that if any utterance can conceivably be taken as gay-bashing, it inevitably will be.

  2. Matt Wyatt says:

    To Peggy Noonan:

    Your comment about John Edwards hair is funny; except that it comes from someone who worships Ronald “Grecian Formula” Regan. I’m sure Regan never colored his hair while he was President. What a phony.

  3. Mark Greene says:

    It seems Edwards draws personal attacks almost exclusively. It indicates that Conservative pundits like Noonan believe they will loose a debate with Edwards on the issues.

    Hence, where Edwards is concerned, we’re gonna keep hearing about his hair. Another example of the kind of limited number of “safe” issues the Right wing is reduced to working with after seven years of George Bush.

  4. journalschism says:

    Did I miss something? Because all I see in that clip is a U.S. Senator combing his hair before a TV appearance. What is the big f*cking deal????

    The thing that really gets me is that if the guy gets on TV looking disheveled, immediately the story is, “What’s wrong with John Edwards and his bizarre, unkempt appearance?”

    Reasonable, substantive political discourse in this country is dead and gone.

  5. Jim Demetre says:

    Peggy Noonan is one of the worst examples of contemporary political commentators. While no one would ever expect an astute analysis of a politician’s worth from her, she does gets credit for her ability to capture the image a candidate projects. But like some intoxicated teenager, she is incapable of seeing – in the case of Reagan, for example – the feeble-minded, aging actor who hid behind the persona of a gallant, masculine horseman. Why anyone would take her comments about John Edwards hair seriously is beyond me.

  6. carpeicthus says:

    We already have a president who, when he thought the cameras weren’t rolling, decided to use that time to give the audience the finger. I’ll take someone who has to groom themeselves for TV (as in, anyone who’s ever been on TV), over an overgrown six-year-old on a destructive streak.

  7. carpeicthus says:

    Jake: Learn to read. James is saying that Glenn is overreaching. Which, in fact, he is.

  8. Tlaloc says:

    I have to feel sort of bad for Edwards. I’m not that fond of him but he, by far, gets the most ridiculous crap thrown at him by political rivals.

    How many news stories have there been about him that haven’t mentioned either his hair or the size of his house?

  9. Announcerguy says:

    Glen Greenwald might be over-reaching with his linking of Noonan’s “Poofing” comment with British slang for homosexuality, but as usual, he’s spot on with the larger analysis.

    Noonan is following the prescribed Republican attack line for Edwards; namely, that he’s not man enough to be president. Despite the fact that her former boss used more hair care products than a roomful of beauty pageant contestants, and more rouge than a street corner full of Bowery hookers, this is now the established line on Edwards, and she follows it without a hint of irony or apology.

    Her homophobic assault disguises the real motive of such a piece: Edwards must be insulted and deemed “unreasonable” based on frivolous charges, because if his brand of “intemperate and insincere” populism strikes a responsive chord, and gains traction with middle and working-class voters, real alarm bells will sound within the ruling class.

    Using Noonan’s logic, we could also have judged FDR as “intemperate and insincere,” since he, too, was a member of the ruling elite, and was seen as a class traitor by many of them. Edwards is a genuine threat to those people, therefore, he must be taken out using a faux argument, one that Republicans think will resonate with the hoi polloi. If they’ve guessed wrong, and Edwards gains momentum, all bets are off.

  10. Bithead says:

    Glenn Greenwald has been radicalized with respect to gay-bashing. The practical implication of that is that if any utterance can conceivably be taken as gay-bashing, it inevitably will be

    Man, you got that right. Did you see the drooling he’s doing over this?

    In the end, this is not about questioning Edward’s masculinity, but about questioning his self-centeredness. Of course Greenwald can’t see it.

  11. Jay Rosen says:

    Hi James: Couldn’t find an email address for you. So I am sending you this link via comment thread. Something I thought might interest you, as it concerns something you have written about:

    “Most of them are not ideologically driven; they just want to get on the front page.”


  12. Eneils Bailey says:

    Just a personal preference, not knowing much about him:
    If I were to be at a public urinal and John Edwards was directly behind me, I would shake, drip, tuck, and zip before I turned around.
    And on the way out, I don’t think I would be standing before a mirror doing a “hair poofing.”

    But, then again, maybe John Edwards squats when he drains his salamander.