Tall Order

Shouldn’t we be smart enough to look beyond physical stature? We should. Are we? I don’t know.
Tall Order, Indianapolis Monthly, November 2011

Dear Governor Daniels,

Remember when my husband and I bumped into you at a restaurant several months back and said something you had probably heard a million times, like, “Lookee here, the next President of the United States!”? You dodged the issue in your own wily way, saying America was in enough trouble without you making matters worse. Humility, shumility. You were the Republican Party’s greatest hope and the country’s best candidate to dig us out of debt. I mean, your ability to keep Indiana in the black amid economic turmoil speaks for itself. I would have shared this observation directly had you not scurried off that night, no doubt eager to get away from yet another nagging constituent.

What I wouldn’t have mentioned, though, is the fact that some pundits were saying you might not have won, for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with your credentials. Those soothsayers cite your short stature, which I understand to be about 5’7″, although from my vantage point (4’11”), you look plenty tall enough. I guess standing a half-foot lower than your opponent might put you at a disadvantage—height to some connotes strength, power, and importance. I’ve known some tall people myself, and a certain arrogance often accompanies, like the view from up there is loftier, the perspective grander. I was once at a reception for President Clinton (6’2½”), and believe-you-me, when he strode in, all ruddy and white-haired and above it all, a hush fell over the room. I have to admit the contrast between you and the current president would have been somewhat striking, especially in crowd scenes and televised debates. Back in the olden days, nobody much cared that Stephen Douglas was only 5 feet—he did manage to beat Lincoln (6’4″) once, in a Senate race—or that James Madison was just 5’4″ because, without the barrage of TV and the Internet, hardly anyone saw them anyway.

This can’t be news to you. After all, you were shown in a video clip on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart acknowledging, “Sure, if it comes down to height and hair, I probably wouldn’t do very well,” after which Stewart responded, “I got some bad news for you, sir. It comes down to height and hair.” Hogwash! Shouldn’t we be smart enough to look beyond physical stature? We should be. Are we? I don’t know. Some voters, and by those I mean, say, the ones who favor Sarah Palin for her figure, hair, and glasses, have warped values. And some people, and by those I mean, say, the Casey Anthony jury, are just plain dumb. It’s a moot point now, which still honks me off, but had you been on the ballot next year at this time, America might just have been wise enough to vote for you. If we were looking for somebody to shoot free throws, we’d have nominated Reggie Miller.

Had you been on the ballot next year at this time, America might just have been wise enough to vote for you.

Like I said, I’m no stranger to shortness myself, and life down here ain’t easy. I can’t sit in restaurant booths without the table hitting me in the throat, which inevitably results in a dining companion or server suggesting a booster seat. This is not funny on several levels: It’s trite, it’s embarrassing, and I know it conjures images of whether my butt would, in fact, fit in one of those sticky molded-plastic contraptions. At cocktail parties, the other participants in a conversation are usually a couple of heads taller. I can hear a din, glasses clinking, and occasional laughter, but for the most part I pass the obligatory 10–15 minutes looking up people’s noses. Polite folks lean over occasionally to include me, which makes me feel like a third-grader. Thankfully, nobody’s patted me on the head—lately. Do you ever feel, like, surrounded?

I’ve never actually seen a parade, generally change seats every time someone plops down in front of me in a movie theater, and implore strangers to retrieve items from the top shelf at the supermarket. Cars are not made for short people—right?—and I live in fear of the airbag inflating and chopping off my head. The seatbelt digs into my neck, and I elevate myself on a memory-foam seat cushion that starts out at 3 inches, at which point I can see the hood ornament, but eventually squishes down to 1 inch, at which point I can see the squirters on the windshield wipers. My mother was also short, and by the time she reached her mid-80s, she sat eye-level to the door locks. Being perpetually good-natured, however, she would often comment on how lovely the trees and sky looked that day.

I read a random blog post by some evolutionary psychologist named Satoshi Kana-zawa, who concluded that tall people are more intelligent than short people. Being short myself, I couldn’t get my head around such high-handed terms as “assertive mating” and “extrinsic correlation” to find out why. It’s easier to dismiss the scientific theory unscientifically, which is to say a person’s brain doesn’t know how high off the ground it is and therefore works independently. On the flip side, I dug up some research by one Thomas T. Samaras, who, along with his asso-ciates, has demonstrated that shorter people possess certain advantages, such as greater dexterity and endurance, longer life span, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. As an added bonus, since we take up less space, we have a smaller carbon footprint.

Bottom line is, who cares? At 6’2″, Julia Child had a pretty significant impact on her field, and, at just about 5 feet, Mother Teresa didn’t do so badly either. As far as I’m concerned, Mitch, you could have won the genetic lottery—or wear lifts in your shoes and a pompadour—and you’d still be you: one of the nation’s most respected governors and a proven fiscal leader. Since we vertically challenged people should stick together, I wish you had listened to me.


Deborah Paul

Illustration by Andrea Eberbach.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue.