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Bald, stubby and chubby: is that presidential material?
Scripps Howard News Service


April 27, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The 2008 presidential race has just started, but already it has the potential to be a victory for the common man, the balding, overweight, jowly common man, a large - but largely ignored - portion of the electorate.

Conservatives are flocking to the partially raised banner of Republican Fred Thompson, supposedly because he's solid on all their core issues. Some of us are hoping there are other reasons: He's bald. And jowly.

Fellow Republican Rudolph Giuliani is bald and, better yet, sometimes evinces what looks like a rudimentary comb-over. Democrat Al Gore, should he get in, has a growing bald spot.

Maybe these candidates will reverse a lamentable failing of American voters: They do not vote for bald candidates. You have to go back to Dwight Eisenhower to find a bald president, and he had to win World War II just to stand a chance. It did help, however, that his opponent both times was also bald. Before that, you have to go all the way back to Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841, to find a really bald president.

John Edwards has alienated many voters of a certain maturity, not for his $400 haircuts but because he has the hair to spend it on.

Also in the race are candidates who have a natural appeal to a large and, well, expanding voting bloc, those who are overweight or prone to it. Newt Gingrich, Bill Richardson, Gore are - pick your euphemism - stout, burly, chubby; in any case, they show a healthy fondness for the groceries, rather like most American males of their vintage.

But Americans don't vote for fat presidents. The last one was 330-pound William Howard Taft, 1909-1913. In the 19th century, a large girth was considered a sign of sagacity and sound judgment - some of us would say it still is - and an appreciative electorate twice voted the portly Grover Cleveland into office.

After the presidency, Taft went on to become a distinguished chief justice of the United States. Americans will tolerate many failings in their chief executives - the history of presidential philandering is a long and rich one - but they never again elected a fat person. Hypocrites.

The 2008 race may produce a victory for the fat, bald and jowly, but it will not produce a victory for Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich is, through no fault of his own, short. The local paper generously puts him at 5-feet-6, a failing that the voters will not forgive in a potential president.

Our shortest president was James Madison, 1809-1817, at just under 5-feet-4, and he only drafted the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Fat lot of good that would do him with the voters today.

Consider that George W. Bush, at 5-feet-11, is the shortest president since Jimmy Carter, at 5-feet-9. And you have to go back to Teddy Roosevelt, 1901-1909, to find a president shorter than Carter.

All presidential wannabes promise to have an administration that "looks like America." This time, one of the candidates may make good on that threat.



Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
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Scripps Howard News Service,

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