Obesity, a Roadblock to the White House?

Here on Ricochet, we’ve had a few conversations about politicians’ looks, and whether those looks are presidential.  Tommy De Seno’s wife, for instance, just doesn’t think Paul Ryan “looks like a President.”  Pat Sajak thinks Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all looked the part, but that Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Al Gore simply didn’t.

Whenever this topic comes up, Chris Christie’s weight inevitably surfaces in conversation.  I get the sense that most here don’t consider Christie’s obesity a liability, and some might even consider it a net plus.  For example, Scott Reusser says that, “for me, somehow it seems to add to his oh-what-the-hell-I’m-just-going-to-tell-it-like-it-is image.”

But mark Bloomberg columnist Michael Kinsley down in the camp that thinks fat is bad. Very, very bad.

Look, I’m sorry, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cannot be president: He is just too fat. Maybe, if he runs for president and we get to know him, we will overlook this awkward issue because we are so impressed with the way he stands up to teachers’ unions. But we shouldn’t overlook it — unless he goes on a diet and shows he can stick to it.

…Too many Americans may be heavy, but they don’t define themselves by that condition (at least not in a positive way) or automatically bond with fellow overeaters. Republicans insist that raising taxes on the rich is bad politics because most Americans hope to be rich eventually. Most overweight people hope to be thin eventually. So appealing to them in this way may not work.

…Unfortunately, the symbolism of Christie’s weight problem goes way past the issue of obesity itself. It is just a too- perfect symbol of our country at the moment, with appetites out of control and discipline near zilch. And it’s not just symbolism. We don’t yet know much about Chris Christie. He certainly makes all the right noises about fiscal discipline and seems to have done well so far as governor of New Jersey. Perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first.

The question is not whether the opinion Kinsley puts forth is stupid.  That anyone would dismiss a candidate solely on the basis of his weight is stupid, insulting, petty, shallow, and then some.  The question is:  do enough people hold the view that obesity is intolerable in a Chief Executive for it to matter for Christie’s hypothetical WH bid?

  1. The King Prawn

     It’s a great question, but there’s only one way to find out. He has to get in to test the theory. Personally, I think it adds yet another layer of humanity to him (pun intended?) that is severely missing in other candidates. Perhaps we are ready for candidate who hasn’t had all the blemishes air brushed out of the picture. Plus, it would be a perfect opportunity to reformulate the hideous question of boxers or briefs into cake or pie.

  2. katievs

    I (since a few days ago a Christie supporter), for one, do not think that being concerned about his weight is stupid or petty and shallow.  It’s a serious health issue and it’s a character issue, besides being aesthetically unappealing. 

    But, as Scott Reuser put it when the issue came up before, if he has a great VP, I’ll worry less about the health issue.  And as to character, give me a weakness for donuts over vanity or venality or acquisitiveness or narcissism or adultery or fanaticism or gutlessness.

    I’m starting to think his fatness might even add to his appeal–in the sense that he comes across as very human, unpolished and normal.

  3. katievs

    I laugh out loud when I hear Mark Levin call him Krispy Kreme Christie.  If he gets in and gets the nomination, I say we serve Krispy Kreme donuts at our local Christie rallies.

  4. Bereket Kelile

    We’ve had big presidents before, Taft. You can’t say it’s unpresidential because there are fat presidents. It’s like saying a beard is unpresidential.

    P.S. – Isn’t his real problem his lack of conservative credentials? I think problems are going to arise for him the way it did for Perry if he jumps in, especially on issues like the environment and energy.

  5. Cas Balicki

    The last bald president of the US was Eisenhower, and he was, arguably, the last pre-television president. Gerald Ford was never elected, so there’s no use bringing him up. 

    Appearance is the voters’ primary shortcut in assessing a candidate. I know we would like to fool ourselves into believing otherwise, but it ain’t so. 

  6. Cas Balicki
    bereket kelile: We’ve had big presidents before, Taft. You can’t say it’s unpresidential because there are fat presidents. It’s like saying a beard is unpresidential. · Sep 30 at 9:42am

    Edited on Sep 30 at 09:43 am

    Taft was a pre-television president! This is vitally important, especially if you consider the Nixon-Kennedy debates, which Kennedy won on image. Nixon looked sweaty and pale, Kennedy tanned and cool. 

  7. James Lileks

    I expected better from Kinsley – it’s practically incoherent. “Republicans insist that raising taxes on the rich is bad politics because most Americans hope to be rich eventually.” Really? That’s all he hears when the right discusses the deleterious effects of excessive taxation? It’s one thing to mischaracterize the opposition’s fundamental tenets, but to make yourself look uninformed in order to make a silly point – well, best to spend your credibility on larger matters.

    There will be sniffs of disdain about his weight from the dessicated-runner types who look like a bird that reproduces asexually, but most people will see someone vital and alive. As opposed to, say, a rail-thin guy who owes his waistline size to A) his wife’s control of the menu, and B) cigarettes. 

  8. Bill Whalen

    Personally, I care more about how much fat a politician has between his ears, not around his waist.

    If he were to run, I’d be curious as to how the Christie campaign would handle medical information.

    Does obesity run in the Christie family? Is this something Christie can treat, as did Huckabee?

    Once in the campaign, would his people release such medical data as specific weight, cholesterol, etc. What meds he’s taking?

    You might think a high cholesterol number is politically irrelevant; Letterman and Leno could run with it for a week in monologues, if it’s a whopper.

    My only concern with a seriously overweight president: would the stress of the job lead to an early heart attack (granted, you could ask the same of the trim Obama if his family had a bad cardiac history)? Isn’t battling his waistline a good example to set for others?

    Back in the day, Washington reporters kept a close eye on Ted Kennedy’s weight — the joke being that if Teddy started dropping lbs, he was warming up to a presidential run. Call me a cynic, but I doubt Mike Kinsley ever wrote a piece saying Ted Kennedy was too fat.

    btw, William Howard Taft (born: 1857) died in 1930 at the age of 72. He was 51 years old when he took office in early 1909. Christie turned 49 earlier this month.

  9. Pseudodionysius

    If its an issue I will provide the contact information for an Olympic level nutritionist to advise The Stay Puft Marshmellow President to be and he can do what Rush Limbaugh did and hire professional chefs to serve every meal. It can be done.

    It will be extra cool to see him lose girth as does the US deficit.

  10. Matthew Bartle

    Chances are the Democratic strategy will be nothing more than character assassination. My question is, would they spend so much time compulsively yelling “HE’S FAT!!!” that they would drown out other or neglect other criticisms?

    Might it play in his favor that he can say, “If that’s all you’ve got…” ? After all, this is a guy that looks like America!

  11. The Mugwump

    Bill Clinton has a pock-marked, bulbous nose generally associated with hardcore alcoholism.  Only a few cartoonists have had the guts to caricature this particular feature.  Same was true for both Tip O’Neil and Ted Kennedy.  Of course, they were Democrats.  

    What will average voters think about Christie’s corpulence?  Whatever the press tells them to think.  My own take is that force of personality can overcome physical defects, but that’s just me.  

  12. Cas Balicki

    Christie campaign bumper sticker: Ewes not fat! Ewes fluffy!

  13. Alcina

     I would worry primarily about our brainless popular culture.  On TV and elsewhere, the constant refrain will be that Christie is fat.  Just ask David Letterman.  It may turn out to be his defining characteristic, however unfairly.

  14. Paul A. Rahe

    If the economy was booming and all was otherwise well, Christie’s girth might matter. I cannot imagine any ordinary American giving a damn in current circumstances. What they would remember is that he tells it how it is. It is refreshing and reassuring when a politician tells the truth.

  15. Duane Oyen

    I agree with Cas.  It is sad, shallow, unfortunate.  But politics today is a visual medium, the reason that the taller candidate usually wins, and combovers are verboten.  It is not because we don’t appreciate the real candidate, it is because too many are likely to shy away due to a noticeable physical “defect”. 

    It will be sold by the legacy media, as they stump and spike for Obama, as a lack of self-discipline in eating- in a way that is never applied to Obama’s inability to lay off the smokes.

    All of the above describe a political handicap- such as being perceived as a lightweight failed B-movie actor- not a disqualifier.  It is always possible to overcome a handicap- Kerry was taller than Bush. 

    Christie’s real problem is the in-your-face style of confrontation.  But it is possible that the girth could be presented to make him seem more cuddly…..  but only if he self-deprecatingly jokes about it and brings it up as a repeating gag line (“We are going to have a contest after I take office, to see what we can slim down the fastest, me or the HHS budget…”)

  16. Fricosis Guy

    If Christie is comfortable with his truth as a fat American, then so am I.

  17. Doctor Bean

    What will keep Christie from being elected President is not his weight. It’s that he’s not running.

  18. katievs
    Duane Oyen:  but only if he self-deprecatingly jokes about it and brings it up as a repeating gag line (“We are going to have a contest after I take office, to see what we can slim down the fastest, me or the HHS budget…”) · Sep 30 at 10:39am

    Or, “I like pork on the table, not in the budget.”

  19. Robert E. Lee

    Are electing a leader or a beauty queen?  You’d think we’d learned by now that electing the most pleasing candidate instead of the best qualified candidate is a fast way to ruination.  Might as well cancel the election and hold auditions on American Idol.

  20. barbara lydick

    If Christie were to be our nominee, it would be a delicious poke in Nanny Bloomberg’s eye after his (words fail me – pick an adjective) speech to the UN about the primary responsibility of government. It would be a good portion of the nation telling His Nanniness and all the other little nannies to go pound sand.  As Prof. Rahe said, we’ve got much more important problems to deal with.