Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Running Short: The Tall Tale of John McCain's Height

It is increasingly difficult to look at John McCain without wondering if he wears lifts.

According to most sources – and according to eyeballing estimates by even the least discerning Americans out there, Mr McCain is at most 5’ 7” (1.70 m) tall. Now the last time any man under 5’ 8” (1.73 m) had a taste of the U.S. presidency, his first initials were U.S. and he’d just commanded an army that united the states into one grand ol’ nation. Oh, and he wasn’t considered short since the average height of a man in the 1850’s was approximately just over 5’ 7.5” (1.71 m).

While surprisingly little is being made of many of McCain’s substantial shortcomings, one would think that the U.S. press – notoriously shallow in its coverage of any issue, especially a significant one like whether someone has the credentials, character and ability to lead the most powerful nation in the world – would at least smirk at or even remark on the fact that the Republican party’s big candidate is actually quite small.

The problems McCain faces even at this juncture of the campaign season are worrying indeed for the Republican party and not just because pretty soon McCain will be standing side-by-side 6’ 1.5” (1.87 m) Barack Obama at presidential debates. Now, as McCain and his party pursue a suitable Vice Presidential candidate for their not-so-winning ticket, the problems that another height challenged presidential candidate, one Michael S. Dukakis (5’ 8”, 1.73 m), faced seem very real indeed.

When Dukakis chose the 6’ 1” (1.85 m) Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate for the 1988 presidential campaign against 6’ 2” (1.88 m) George Bush the elder, it seemed like a good idea at the time – an undoubtedly concerted effort to present a more balanced height average for the Democratic ticket. Sadly for Dukakis, none of his advisers succeeded (if they even tried) in predicting just how unfortunately silly a presidential candidate looks when his lesser-office partner towers above him. Some say it might have cost him the election.

So what’s McCain to do? He obviously can’t choose a VP candidate as tall as Lloyd Bentsen (especially considering he’s even shorter than Dukakis), which leaves him with the only option of choosing a VP that barely makes the average height of a U.S. male (5’ 10”). Will American voters notice that the Republican ticket is short on prospects? Does the U.S. public care how their President looks? Just ask H. Ross Perot (5’ 6”, 1. 68 m).

Sure, it’s wrong to judge a book by its withered little cover but Americans are going to do it anyway. And certainly history is chock full of short men (with short man complexes, also known as the Napolean complex after one of history’s most notorious overcompensators) who’ve reached great heights. But the Vladimir Putins (5’ 5.5”, 1.67 m), Nicolas Sarcozys (5’ 5”, 1.65 m) and Silvio Berlusconis (5’ 5.5”, 1.67 m – though, embarrassingly, he himself claims he’s taller than both Putin and Sarcozy at a whopping 5’ 7.5”, 1.71 m) of the world pulled off their towering achievements at an age when the vitality of a lingering youth still propelled their detractors to look beyond their shortcomings.

This isn’t about ageism, it’s about wondering if the oldest presidential candidate ever – a man whose clean bill of health has been tattered by advanced skin cancers, kidney stones and high cholesterol – is up to the job.

Which brings us back to McCain’s choice for VP. Will the Republican ticket this year be a repeat of the Bush-Cheney arrangement: A known but largely incapable Presidential candidate being matched up with an actual president that – due to a number of faults, such as being in possession of the face of evil – couldn’t win on his own? You know the Republican strategists aren’t kidding themselves about McCain’s long term standings. Be on the lookout for a major behind-the-scenes puppeteer – someone who’s been a significant policymaker or adviser deep within the U.S. government for at least the last 30 years – being chosen as McCain’s VP.

Today, as Barack Obama has claimed the Democratic nomination and the actual presidential campaign season – all 5 months of it – takes off, the long and short of McCain’s candidacy will only now become apparent to the American voter. The Democrat versus Republican presidential debate season is on the brink and even if the masterminds of the Republican party (the same ones who did a bad job of sneaking George Bush the younger (5’ 11”, 1.80 m) an earpiece during his last presidential campaign debates) manage to maneuver a taller stand for McCain’s podium, at the end of the debate he’ll still have to shake Obama’s hand and put himself up for instant comparisons as Obama stands there looking authoritative, powerful and, well, tall.

Click here for a regularly updated height comparison of McCain VP choices...

For the latest Saccharinist coverage of Selection '08 click here.

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