Five Best Thursday Columns

The folly of 'looking presidential', Rick Perry's health care problem, and limiting web anonymity

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Andrew Roberts on the folly of 'looking presidential'  "An enormous amount of the media coverage of presidential candidates is focused on whether or not he (or, very rarely, she) 'looks presidential,'" writes historian Andrew Roberts in The Wall Street Journal. But, Roberts wonders, what does this mean and why does it matter? "Looking presidential can be broadly translated to mean being around 6 feet tall, relatively slim and broad-shouldered, and having a full head of preferably pepper-and-salt-colored hair and a ready, winning smile." America hasn't always concerned itself with finding the right physical profile in its leaders, and it's a good thing, too, he says. "'There's no way they can run this Lincoln dude,' one can hear the media pundit telling a colleague in 1860." Lincoln's odd facial hair wasn't even conventional in his time, Roberts writes. Nor would today's public likely have warmed to the 5-foot-8, bespectacled Teddy Roosevelt or the 335-pound Howard Taft. "Andrew Jackson's long wavy hair, George Washington's ill-fitting hippo-ivory dentures and the distorted smile it gave him, Woodrow Wilson's tombstone-like teeth and lack of vision in his left eye, Ulysses Grant's grizzly little beard--all might have proven fatal at the polls if earlier ages had been as morally stunted, intellectually limited and looks-obsessed as ours." The Republican party is busy parsing candidates and determining which of them looks like a Hollywood president, but far more failed nominees, from Adlai Stevenson to John Kerry, have looked the part and still lost. "So looking presidential may in fact be a poisoned chalice or, at best, a kind of consolation prize that one gets before having the chance to lose," Roberts suggest. "Mr. Romney might look presidential, but there is still something about him that suggests a 2015 bumper sticker that will state: 'Don't blame me, I voted for Mitt.'"

Joshua Green on Perry's own health care liability  Months ago, many said Mitt Romney's presidential campaign was doomed by his support for a health care plan that too closely resembled President Obama's law. "But is it really?" asks Joshua Green in The Boston Globe. "Though some conservatives have written Romney off, the subset who have done so specifically over RomneyCare--and remain untroubled by his other apostasies--would seem fairly small." More importantly, the competitor most likely to beat Romney for the nomination, Rick Perry, might have a difficult time pressing Romney on the healthcare issue. Perry's state of Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country, whereas Romney's Massachusetts has the lowest. Second, most Republicans take particular issue with the individual mandate in Romney's law. But Perry, as a defender of state's rights, has often argued that the health care plan might fit Massachusetts but not the rest of the country. "In fact, Perry conceded just this point in his recent book, 'Fed Up!'," Green writes. "'If federalism is respected, the people of Massachusetts are free to try [the Romney plan] while the rest of the nation sits back and watches to see if they have any success.'" Perry's third liability is a 1993 letter he wrote to Hillary Clinton praising her efforts to reform health care. Even if Perry decides to continue pressing Romney on the health care issue, he may find a base of Republican voters increasingly less opposed to Obama's reform law; 24 percent of Republicans, up from 8 percent last year, now approve of the law. So Romney and the others will probably be judged on issues more pressing in voters' minds, namely, jobs and the economy, Green writes.

George Will on Colorado's brewer governor  Colorado's governor John Hickenlooper "is a double rarity," writes George Will in The Washington Post. He is "the first brewer to become a governor (well, if you don't count Sam Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the amateur), and, in this time of political dyspepsia, he is a happy man whose constituents seem reasonably happy with him." Hickenlooper came to Colorado from Philadelphia in the 1980s energy boom, but when it went bust, he looked elsewhere for work. He decided to open pubs in downtown Denver, where a restaurant hadn't opened in five years and rents were cheap. "In his pubs he placed advertisements for other restaurants nearby because he had a stake in getting people out of their homes: 'Our competitors are not other restaurants but TV sets.'" Will praises Hickenlooper's laid-back governing style. He does not "pull on his socks" until 9 a.m., because he knows "Coloradans can cope even if their governor is not scurrying around early, acting essential to everything." Many politicians know nothing about job creation, having never been in the private sector, but Hickenlooper says everyone in government should run a big, popular restaurant for two years. "Doing so, you learn about placating people: Not all customers are going to be happy, but the proverb has it right ('A soft answer turneth away wrath.')" Maybe that's why he hasn't endorsed attempts to overturn a voter-led restriction on the legislature's ability to raise taxes. "He says, 'We are such a purple state' --Colorado is about one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third unaffiliated--'we can avoid the big fights.'" Writes Will: "The United States is the only nation founded on a good idea--the pursuit of happiness --and, not coincidentally, it also was founded on beer."

David Kaye on where to try Qaddafi  Libya's rebels have said they want to try Colonel Muammar Qaddafi when they catch him in Libyan courts, but the International Criminal Court in The Hague has already issued an arrest warrant for Qaddafi and others in his circle for crimes against humanity. "Some argue that the new Libyan government would be legally bound to transfer Colonel Qaddafi and his associates to The Hague. Others argue that the I.C.C. must defer to Libyan authorities if they are willing and able to try Colonel Qaddafi fairly in their own courts. A better option should satisfy both I.C.C. partisans and the new leaders of Libya: allow the I.C.C. to try those indicted, but to do it in Libya," writes David Kaye in The New York Times. Revolutionary Libya might not have the infrastructure necessary to try the former leader, but the I.C.C. surely would. But an I.C.C. trial in The Hague would take place far away and would limit victim involvement. A Libya-held trial "would be closer to the communities that most need to see justice done. It could involve more Libyans in the proceedings, a step that would afford the I.C.C. greater access to victims and give young Libyan lawyers and other professionals experience with a modern system of justice." It would set Libya on a path of participating in international institutions and dealing well with lower-level criminals and the path of reconciliation. The idea of an I.C.C. trial held on-site isn't new, either. "The Nuremberg trials after World War II drew much of their power from the fact that they took place in the country responsible for the worst crimes of the 20th century. And the I.C.C.'s charter, the Rome Statute, leaves open the possibility of trials outside The Hague." Libyans deserve a trial in their own country, and the international community can use this opportunity to support them as they rebuild, Kaye says.

John Gapper on limiting web anonymity  "One of the founding principles of the web--not only the technology but the culture that has grown up with it--is that, as the New Yorker cartoon once put it: 'On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog,'" writes John Gapper in the Financial Times. But social networks are increasingly limiting peoples' ability to interact under pseudonym. "Anonymity should not be banned in every corner of the internet any more than it is in the physical world in democracies--it would breach civil liberties. But there are good reasons to discourage it," Gapper says. He likens the right to Internet anonymity to the rights of anonymous voting and pamphleteering. It is necessary to protect democracy. So we should avoid making all Internet users adhere to a "strong identity," which he likens to carrying an identity card. But, as Facebook's Randi Zuckerberg has pointed out, people would probably behave more civilly if they had to attach their names to their words. "The prevalence of anonymity in online debates has helped to spawn a culture of aggression," Gapper says. "The effect can be to diminish participation rather than increase it--amid so much noise it is harder to know what is valuable." Use of pseudonyms can mitigate this, because "sites can identify and weed out persistent mischief-makers and users gain a sense of others' personalities." So Gapper thinks it is within Google's and Facebook's rights to take a stand on anonymity. "For some companies, that means banning anonymity. Others could encourage users to disclose their full identities by rewarding them for doing so. Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor, has argued for favouring 'the comments of people who have the courage to stand behind their words with their names.'" Such incentives, not mandates, might hopefully improve the discourse on the web without limiting freedom, Gapper says.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.