Fat Man for President!

Chris Christie

“I hope that if Chris Christie some day runs for the Republican nomination, that he doesn’t lose any weight. I mean that because the United States culture continues to be replete with negative images of heavy men and heavy women especially. […] I’m not saying we need another William Howard Taft, but I actually think it would be healthy for the United States. I mean, we live in a country where Bill Clinton was talked about as a fat man, which was absurd. […] I hope that, in the future, if Haley Barbour or Chris Christie, they run, and they run as geniunely heavy men.” –Robert Farley, Bloggingheads.tv.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been in the news lately with his disclosure that he had weight-loss surgery. Marc Ambinder, who has gone through it himself, gives some good background on the whole thing in The Atlantic.

To their credit, more of Christie’s critics than I would have expected – particularly his critics on the left – have expressed support or indifference. Which is, to my mind, as it should be. A fair number of people, however, are holding on to some pretty ugly prejudices.

My primary objection to this has little to do with Chris Christie, and more to do with fat people in general. The thing is, if you mock Chris Christie for being fat, you’re not just mocking Chris Christie, you’re mocking fat people. The vast majority of it comes back to the notion that fatness is a mockable trait. Acting as though his obesity makes him inherently weak, or simply judging him as a lesser person – and less deserving of the office of governorship or the presidency – simply reinforces it. Other than the broad “I do not want an aesthetically displeasing person to run as president, the criticism often attempts to turn on a number of factors, all problematic.

It’s not about appearance, it’s about health. Is it? Would you have truly voted against Jed Bartlett’s re-election campaign? Beyond which, contrary to what Connie Mariano says, we really don’t know what Christie’s health is. The loss in life-expectency of an obese person compared to a non-obese person is 3-12 years. Hillary Clinton is fifteen years older than he is and Joe Biden is twenty years older. Statistically speaking, there isn’t much reason to be confident that Clinton and (particularly) Biden will outlive him. A larger concern tends to be health while alive. Christie could end up in a wheelchair. Are we prepared to say that we can’t have a president in a wheelchair? He could end up faced with fatigue. Old people have been known to get fatigue, too. And leaving all of this aside, Christie isn’t some statistic. He’s a person whose body may be dealing with the obesity well or may not be. If he runs for president, we will get more information about Christie’s actual state-of-health.

It’s not about appearance, it’s about discipline. Who wants a weak president? Am I truly supposed to believe that Bill Clinton’s inability to control his sexual urges was a puritanical non-issue, but Christie’s inability to control his food take is somehow relevant? This assumes, of course, that Christie’s food intake is occurring in a vacuum. Weight is a complicated thing. We don’t know how much he eats. Chances are it’s more than most, but even then you end up in a situation where one guy eats whenever he’s hungry and ends up looking like Barack Obama and another person eats whenever he’s hungry and ends up looking like Chris Christie. It’s… dicey, to actually attach a greater degree of moral worth and strength to the first person, for simply having less of an appetite? You’re still knee-deep in a lot of genetics here.

It’s not about appearance, it’s about how he’s handled the issue. The primary criticism being that Christie’s temper has been known to flare with this issue. Or that he’s uneven, between downplaying and laughing one minute to being angry the next. Well, how he responds to an issue that isn’t an issue shouldn’t be an issue, really. Our relationship with our body is a complicated thing. The expectation of some – explicit or implicit – is that he damn well better feel a healthy dose of self-loathing over this. But there is no appropriate response, ultimately. Self-loathing is deeply unattractive. Laughing it off is laughing off “a health crisis.” And getting angry at Mariano? Well, it wasn’t dignified, but neither is the “Fatty McFatterson gonna die” that he responded to. To which someone might respond “But this is part of a pattern with Christie.” Fair enough, and I’ll touch on this later, but find a better example than this one.

It’s not about appearance, it’s the hypocrisy (he’s a bully). Except that tying this to his weight only really works if weight should be considered a vulnerability that someone should be bullied over. Otherwise, he’s a bully or not whether he’s fat or thin and that’s condemnable or not on that basis. That Christie couldn’t lose the weight without surgical help is actuall par for the course for overweight people generally, only a sad few of which will ever permanently lose weight and most of those through surgery.

It’s not about the appearance, it’s about access to health care. Okay, now we’re at least dealing with relevant issues. Tread carefully here, though. It only works if you’re treating it the way you would treat a run-of-the-mill heart attack or somesuch.

It remains to be seen the extent to which weight will hurt Christie. Oddly, it could actually help him with women. Which would seriously drive some people nuts. Not unlike those conservatives who argue that Obama got a free ride because he was black. I am, ultimately, skeptical that it will. I think there’s a difference when it comes to a governor (or senator) and a president. This is a case where I really think our biases will get the best of us.

Now, I titled this piece “Fat Man For President!” But I have no strong attachment to Chris Christie. Merely that I agree with Mr. Farley on the prospect of a fat president than this guy or that one. And, while I wish Christie the best with his goal of weight loss (regardless of why he wants to lose the weight), I have to confess that a little part of me would be disappointed if he pulled a Mike Huckabee.

That I view him as one of the better candidates on the Republican side says more about the Republican field than it does about Christie. And while I wouldn’t hesitate to vote for him for governor or senator, I think there are a lot of legitimate questions about whether or not he is temperamentally suited for the presidency. And for the more liberal, of course, I understand that there are a lot of concerns about him that have absolutely nothing to do with his weight. I am not saying that there aren’t a lot of legitimate reasons to oppose Christie’s candidacy. There are. Stick with those.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Conversely, if you’re in the market for a Republican who is sort of on the sane side and not beholden to the religious right, Christie might be about as good-looking a candidate as you could hope for.

    • I don’t think you could ever vote for a guy who endorsed Dick Cheney for president of the universe.

  2. Up until I turned 38 I weighed almost exactly the same as I had the day I graduated from high school; about 190 or so, on a 6’3″ frame. Now I’m carrying an extra 30 or 40 pounds, right in the gut where it does the most harm. I have no damn clue where that came from because I didn’t change my eating habits a bit. If anything I eat less than I used to. Apparently my damn metabolism shifted with age.

    I used to look at fat people with a sort of disgust. Like don’t you have any respect or self-control? But I know now it’s not that simple. Undoubtedly, some people have genetic variations that back in our caveman past would have been adaptive traits allowing a person to carry a few extra pounds that helped you get through a lean winter. Now, with our modern diet characterized by constant plenty, that same person is a Fatty McFatterson.

    So, yeah… if Christie is the Repub nominee I’m not likely to vote for him. But the reason will be the “R” behind his name, not the size of his waistband.

  3. I think Christie’s weight as a political issue matters only to two groups:

    1. That subset of liberals who fear he might be a good prez candidate and are partisan enough that they’re willing to say anything to weaken an opponent.

    2. The media, who need things–something, anything–to write about to fill column inches. (Late night comedians who need joke fodder are a subset of this group.)

    • Bingo.

      Great post, Will.

      I can’t guarantee that appearance doesn’t factor into how I tend to view people. Thankfully, my current views of the two major parties are so far apart that my decision is unlikely to hinge on subconscious factors.

      If you asked me how I felt about Christie, it’s possible that his weight would, unwittingly, be a factor. I hope it wouldn’t and to what extent I was aware it was, I’d try to compensate for it.

      However, if you asked me how I felt about Christie in comparison to another candidate of the other party, I’d almost certainly support the other candidate, provided they weren’t a complete joke. Now, Christie is somewhat unique amongst Republicans (for me at least) in that he appears to be the sort that might be able to get my support. I don’t know enough about him (despite hailing from the Garden State and living in its neighbor) but he doesn’t rankle me the way most high profile Republicans seem to.

      If he becomes a viable candidate for me, I sincerely hope I do not hold his weight against him.

    • I think you’re letting the voting public off easy.

      Either fat people, short people, and less attractive people are inherently terrible leaders, or those are things the public actually cares about – because I don’t see a lot of fat, short or less attractive people doing damage in primaries.

      • As I noted in my comment, I think this is more likely to manifest itself subconsciously. In much the same way that other forms of discrimination in voting patterns tend to.

        I think there are some people who explicitly think, “I’d never vote for a woman for President. Can’t have her finger on the button when she’s, ya know, that way one week out of the month.”

        I think there are a lot more who look at a female candidate of equal competence to a male competitor and think, “I can’t put my finger on it, but he just seems like the better option.”

        • I’m pretty sure Hillary is well past visits from Aunt Flo, so that aspect would seem to be moot at this point.

          I also think she’s gained a lot of respect, albeit some of it grudging, wrt to her competency. In fact, if you’ll notice a lot of the rhetoric from the Right around Benghazi has shifted from Obama and Susan Rice toward Hillary. I get the impression that some are trying to damage her in anticipation of a run in 2016.

          • From Rand Paul, our favorite guy: “First question to Hillary Clinton: Where in the hell were the Marines? It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office.”

            If only Obama had found a small, helpless island to invade the next day.

    • 3. People who are repulsed at fat people. For the sake of partisanship, I can’t imagine any of them who are Republicans will actually vote against Christie if he were to get the nomination, no matter what they said about him during the primaries. I’d be surprised if they stayed home. There may be some independents who are influenced by the number of people trying to make the argument that it would wrong to give the presidency to someone who (in their mind) self-selected to be “unhealthy.”

      • It’d be curious to ask those people how they felt voting for a candidate who smoked (Obama). As I understand it, smoking is more of a choice than being overweight is.

        • As I understand it, smoking is more of a choice than being overweight is.

          Not really. It’s a choice to start or to experiment, but that generally happens in your teen years when you’re young, dumb, and feel immortal. My BIL quit for over a year and finally just gave up and started smoking again. He said the cravings never let up. At best you could distract yourself from them, but they never really went away.

          I’ve heard that Chantix helps a lot in that regard but, alas, it’s verboten per DOT regs for commercial drivers to take it.

          • Whenever I say, “As I understand it…” feel free to read it as, “There’s a good chance I’m wrong about this.”

            Thanks for the info. As someone who has only smoked socially (to the tune of under 50 cigarettes in my entire life and maybe half that many cigars), I really can’t speak personally on the matter.

          • Success rates on smoking cessation are pretty low, but success rates on sustained weight-loss are shockingly low. Point this out to someone who wonders why Chris Christie doesn’t just go on a diet, and they’ll say the 95% of people who fail are just doing it wrong, don’t want to actually lose weight, etc.

          • I’m not an expert, but “dieting” doesn’t really work. Not long term. Making changes to your weight require long-term life changes. It’s possible, but it’s hard as shit.

            I’ve never struggled with weight. But my body certainly responds differently to food now then it did 15, 10, 5, or even 3 years ago. In high school, I ate half my lunches at McDonalds. Between a fast metabolism and regular participation in sports, I never gained a pound. College was when I started to be able to gain weight, both good and bad. I could get results from working out finally but also could get a little pudge if I ate as I always had and didn’t work out. After college, I had to make drastic changes to my diet for a variety of reasons: an ever slowing metabolism, a new schedule that offered less time for working out, and finances. Nowadays, all of that is compounded, with the exception of finances.

            Putting this all together, I could weigh 160 pounds in high school eating McDonalds 5 times a week. Nowadays, I struggle to keep my weight at about 200 pounds despite eating very healthy most of the time and working out at least semi-regularly. Even if I worked out now like I did in my early 20’s, I would be unlikely to attain the body I once did.

            My point in saying all this (and, again, I’ll note that I never really struggled with weight and don’t mean to hold up my situation with those who have) is that making the sorts of long-term life changes required to achieve sustained weight loss are really, really hard. As you get older, it takes more work to get the same or less results than it did when you were younger. Plus you are fighting to change sometimes decade old habits.

            And before anyone holds up high profile celebrities who’ve made drastic weight changes, remember that they often do so with the help of private chefs, nutritionists, personal trainers, and ample free time. That’s not the reality for 99.9999 of people.

    • You don’t think it matters to Republicans for whom he’s insufficiently conservative?

  4. Fat guys and fat girls are significantly less attractive to the general population that non fat folks, so all things being equal, I’m sure a lot of voters would vote for “the slimmer guy”. That’s really the only thing that matters.

    This from a fat guy who’s lost 50 pounds and still needs to loose some more–and backed up by my dating experience. Regardless of his current health, there’s a train wreck coming right at him. He’s pre-diabetic if he’s not diabetic now. Heart probs, etc.

    Side note: fat guys look better in nicer clothes than in “slobby” clothes.

    • I suppose its like how the taller candidate usually wins to since taller is seen better than shorter in our culture, espeically if your a man.

    • Fat guys and fat girls are significantly less attractive to the general population that non fat folks, so all things being equal, I’m sure a lot of voters would vote for “the slimmer guy”.

      If true, that will reflect itself in the polls.

      Regardless of his current health, there’s a train wreck coming right at him. He’s pre-diabetic if he’s not diabetic now. Heart probs, etc.

      It’s the difference between “statistically more likely” and “will” which is getting lost in a lot of this discussion. And even purely statistically, he’s more likely to outlive Hillary Clinton. Her age may or may not become an issue if she runs, but if it does, it won’t be the issue that Christie’s detractors will try to make his weight if he hasn’t slimmed up.

      Side note: fat guys look better in nicer clothes than in “slobby” clothes.

      Depends. When I reached my peak weight, that was when I finally went “slob” and stopped tucking in my shirts. It actually looked better than way.

      • “If true, that will reflect itself in the polls.” True. I must clarify that the comment of mine was more specific to dating than voting, but I’m convinced it’s applicable to both.

        RE Clinton. Agreed.

        Slobby: yes, putting the shirt tail out does look better, but I was talking more of the sweats vs pants/collared shirt comparision.

  5. Sorry for the delay, but since this involves my governor, I wanted to put some thought into this.

    Let me be the first to point out the coincidence of someone named Farley encouraging Christie to run as a fat man.

    I wanted to point out for those who don’t know that the election of Christie was the result of a perfect storm. Of course since being elected he has made the most of his bully pulpit and will have no problems getting re-elected in November. Even I won’t be voting for Barbara Buono, his presumptive opponent, in November.

    The bigger issue in the local MSM is that he had the surgery in secret. He had it out of state under an assumed name. He only told his family, his chief of staff, and his attorney. Note that this list doesn’t include the LtGov. This doesn’t bother me, but they are making a big deal out of it. Strictly speaking, he is supposed to temporarily give up power when he leaves the state. The only reason we know about this now is because he was outed by the New York Post (a Rupert Murdoch publication, ironically).

    What I don’t understand is if he did this for 2016. Everyone knows he was fat, and everyone knows that if he becomes thin, it is because he cheated. For this to work, one has to assume that the American electorate is so motivated by visercal feelings that they would vote for him anyway.

    • Well, I don’t think he was under an obligation to say anything about it, though his lieutenant governor should have been informed that her services may be required.

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