« Return to this article

Know the West

Why Greens need blue blazers

  One of my childhood friends, Karl Warkomski, is the first and only elected Green Party member in ultra-right-wing Orange County, Calif. Orange Country -- home to the mega-hawk and former congressman "B2 Bob" Dornan -- is a place where people get misty-eyed remembering the Reagan presidency.

So how in the world did Karl get elected?

He dresses like an investment banker. Clothes, as they say, make the man.

"When I give a speech or go to a meeting, I basically emulate Brooks Brothers," says Karl. "I grab the most boring item in my closet, put on khakis and loafers and a collegiate tie. And I never, ever forget my flag pin."

Never forget your flag pin: It’s a lesson the Green Party’s candidates should take to heart. Until they do, they are doomed to the margins of American politics.

The Greens, bless their authentic and earnest hearts, are my soul mates. But I invariably cringe when I see a Green candidate, for most seem not to understand that politics is about appearances. Greens may not care about power ties, but the rest of America does.

I’m not picking on the Green Party. I want it to grow up to be big and strong so that it can be just like the other bona fide parties: moderate, indistinguishable and hopelessly compromised by pandering to special interest money.

Just kidding! I want the Greens to have a fighting chance in the 2004 elections, and to do this they need a makeover. Today, when Joe Sixpack think of Greens he imagines people who look like Ted Kaczynski in Jesus shoes. Ralph Nader wasn’t bearded or Birkenstocked, but that rumpled suit surely cost him a few votes.

"When the average voter sees a contingent of Greens they just assume they’re on their way to Woodstock," Karl sighs. He’s getting lonely in office. He’d like some like-minded, well-dressed company.

Remember when the Al Gore campaign hired feminist Naomi Wolf as a consultant, and she dressed the vice president in earth tones? He became fodder for late-night comics. This, in combination with some hanging chads, may have cost him the presidency. Have you ever seen George W. Bush in a mauve cardigan and open-toed shoes? Have you noticed that he’s the president? Coincidence? Methinks not.

I once wore a navy blue suit, pearls, pantyhose and pumps to a wedding in New Mexico. Most of the other guests were in T-shirts and baggy black jeans. By the end of the evening people I didn’t know were addressing me respectfully as "senator."

This led to my Blue-Blazer Theory of Political Achievement: Clothes, especially preppy clothes, can get you elected even if you are a Wiccan marijuana farmer . For those of you in the Wrangler-clad West who may not know, "preppy" is a style of dress characterized by inane color schemes featuring pink and green, cutesy motifs such as whales, sailboats, wee polo players, cuffed khaki pants, monogramming and incredibly ugly shoes worn, inexplicably, without socks.

To qualify as preppy you no longer have to be a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant and you need not have attended Phillips Exeter Academy in the East. You need only to order regularly from the L.L. Bean catalog. The goal is to look perpetually as if you are going golfing, sailing or to play tennis.

Politicos must emulate clean-cut preppies, not the sultry, tousled-hair preps in the Ralph Lauren ads. Real political candidates have barbers. Have you ever seen a presidential wannabe with come-hither bed head? (True, there was Gary Hart, but we all know what happened to his career.)

Green Party candidates, listen up: Hold your nose, and don a blue blazer and button-down shirt. Soon, people will be shaking your hand, handing you babies and stuffing endorsement checks into your pockets. At the moment, L.L. Bean does not make a vegetable-dyed, pesticide-free organic cotton or hemp Oxford cloth shirt with shade-grown solar buttons. But you can wear your recycled-tire underwear made by indigenous peoples beneath those pressed khakis, and no one at the debates will be the wiser.

So Greenies, until America becomes less pretentious -- this is expected to happen when the sun goes supernova -- your party needs to trade in its tie-dye for gray flannel trousers and a nice, pink-pinstriped shirt. It is the uniform that opens doors to power.

And pink and green is an excellent color combination.

Lou Bendrick is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). She worries about things political in Telluride, Colorado.