The Tall Man
What does the Presidential Height Index mean for the 2004 contest?
12:00 AM, Sep 15, 2003 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
JOHN KERRY shouldn't be so worried. Though he's been trailing in polls behind former Vermont governor Howard Dean, the odds are that Kerry will be the next president of the United States. According to the "Presidential Height Index," an admittedly unscientific comparison of the heights of all presidential aspirants since the advent of television, the tallest candidate in a presidential race usually wins. This is good news for the Massachusetts Democrat's campaign. At 6'5", Kerry towers over the other eight Democratic presidential candidates. And when it comes to the general election, Kerry also has little to worry about: He's a full 6 inches taller than President Bush, who measures in at 5'11".
Of course, the PHI could be wrong. Like on-base-percentage, Miss Cleo, and other indicators of future performance, there are always exceptions to the rule. Kerry's hair, which I guess counts for several inches of his height, could throw off the predictive power of the PHI.
And there could always be an upset in which the shorter candidate wins. It's happened one-and-a-half times before. In 1976, Jimmy Carter, who stood 5'9", beat a hulking, 6'2" Gerald Ford. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush beat Al Gore, who stands at 6'1". Perhaps the PHI more solidly indicates success in the popular vote than in the electoral college.
What's remarkable about next year's presidential election is how short the majority of candidates are. Congressman Dick Gephardt, at 6'1", barely breaks the 72" barrier. Howard Dean, the Democratic frontrunner, is only 5'10". Al Sharpton says through an assistant that he's the same height as Dean. Joe Lieberman's press secretary says that the Connecticut Democrat is "a little over 5'9"," which is probably another way of saying 5'8". (Who knew presidential candidates carried the same vanity as NBA players?) Dennis Kucinich stands at 5'7", and Carol Moseley Braun requires a platform behind her podium during debates so that she doesn't appear egregiously shorter than the other candidates. Spokesmen for Moseley Braun were unavailable for comment, as was the entire Moseley Braun campaign, which seems to exist only as a website. (Bob Graham's campaign didn't return calls either.)
While the stakes have rarely been higher, the 2004 presidential election is shaping up to be a clash of the pygmies. Some of the candidates could've easily played extras in "Willow," George Lucas's 1989 little-person fantasia. If presidential gravitas can be reduced to a person's height, then Kerry laps the field and should make hay in the general election.
If, that is, he can win the nomination. The PHI isn't exactly reliable when it comes to presidential primaries. In the 2000 Democratic primary, 6'5" Bill Bradley lost to 6'1" Al Gore. It's possible that a shorter candidate, say, Howard Dean, will win the Democratic nomination. In a race against Dean, Bush would have a PHI advantage of 1 inch. Here's hoping Dubya doesn't come up short.
Matthew Continetti is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.