“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.