Much has been made of the "just-a-heartbeat-away" theory of politics, which is heavy with theoretical questions about what would happen should a leader succumb to illness or misfortune in office. There has been plenty of partisan exploitation in the press, studded with worst-case scenarios. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney certainly were subjected to it.
Now it is Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's turn - with most of the stories positing something like this: "Is she ready to be the leader of the Free World if John McCain dies and blah-blah-blah-blah?" The lament appears almost as frequently as that now familiar, "Yes, but can Sarah Palin be president and still be a mother and moose hunter at the same time?"
But here's news. American voters are not so concerned about the health and age of the candidates, no matter how much journalists and pundits ramp up the story.
A CNN/ Opinion Research Corp. survey of 1,020 adults conducted Sept. 19 to 21 revealed that campaign health did not weigh so heavily on their minds: 7 percent said it was the "most important" factor while 24 percent said that health issues were one of several factors they considered. Another 28 percent said health was a minor concern while 41 percent said it was "not a factor at all."
And continuing, 79 percent said Mr. McCain's age would not affect their vote — identical findings to a similar poll taken on Ronald Reagan in 1980. Fifty-three percent were not concerned that Mr. McCain would sicken in office, while 81 percent said they were not concerned about Sen. Barack Obama's health.
Some things do bother us, though. Eighty-nine percent would be concerned if a candidate was an alcoholic, 73 percent would fret if a candidate had a heart attack during the campaign, 68 percent would care if the hopeful was currently diagnosed with cancer and 67 percent would worry if a candidate were under the care of a therapist or took antidepressants. Just over a quarter cared if a candidate smoked.
Mental and fiscal
What's this? A reasoned effort to address a nightmare economy in a civilized manner? Huzzah. On Tuesday, the nonpartisan Concord Coalition hosts the "Fiscal Wake-up Tour," a public town-hall meeting featuring economists from both the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution who will speak "in plain terms."
"One thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on is that our nation's current fiscal policy is not sustainable over the long term," said spokesman Robert Bixby. "Changing course will require hard choices such as scaling back future entitlement promises, increasing revenues to pay for them, or - most likely - a combination of both. Because these choices are politically difficult, the active involvement of the American people is critical."
The ongoing "tour" already has been to 40 cities; this time the confab is in Philadelphia. Accumulated wisdom seems particularly critical at this juncture as the players "cut through the usual partisan rhetoric and stimulate a more realistic public dialogue," Mr. Bixby added.
Alice M. Rivlin of Brookings and Stuart M. Butler from Heritage will both weigh in; follow along with such dollar-conscious doings at www.concordcoalition.org.
Days of yore
Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and eventually discovered America on this day in 1492, which also marks the beginnings of a traditional morning ritual. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the landing, young Americans began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time in public schools on Oct. 12, 1892.
Today also marks a singular moment in footwear. Vexed with the Cold War, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pounded a shoe on the dais during a dispute at a U.N. General Assembly on this day in 1960.
And score one for Old Glory: The U.S. House of Representatives approved a statutory federal ban on the destruction of the American flag on this day in 1989.
And we have two other anniversaries never to forget. Today also marks the eighth anniversary of the attack on the USS Cole in Aden Harbor, Yemen, which killed 17 crew members and injured 39. Visit the ship here: www.cole. navy.mil. Today also marks the sixth anniversary of terrorist bombings in Bali, which left 202 dead, 200 injured.
Quotes of note
"She's a really tough Western woman." — Laura Bush, on Gov. Sarah Palin, to CNN.
"No pit bull, no dog, nor any other animal for that matter is as dangerous as you are." — actress Brigitte Bardot, in a letter addressed to Mrs. Palin.
"Obama bores his way to victory." — headline in The Daily Beast, a new blog from former New Yorker maven Tina Brown• .
"Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Lenin and Stalin." — from the top 12 list of "Russia's All-Time Greatest Citizens," a survey conducted by Rossia, state-owned TV; from the Moscow Times.
By the numbers
We're all sweating the economy and the election. Junior's college tuition looms. The price of dog food is escalating. But some things, somehow, persevere. Here are America's top five most expensive ZIP codes, according to Forbes Magazine - plus a few entries further down the list:
33109 (Miami Beach, median home price $3.8 million)
07620 (Alpine, N.J., median home price $3.6 million)
11765 (Mill Neck, N.Y., median home price $3 million)
92657 (Newport Coast, Calif., median home price $2.8 million)
11976 (Water Mill, N.Y., median home price $2.7 million)
And in 15th place: 21056 (Gibson Island, Md., median home price $2 million).
At 17: 10007 (New York City, median home price $1.9 million)
At 121: 22066 (Great Falls, Va., median home price $1 million)
At 198: 20854 (Potomac, Md., median home price $890,000)
Last at 500: 33037 (Key Largo, Fla., median home price $676,500)
• Contact Jennifer Harper at 202/636-3085 or firstname.lastname@example.org