Every week, it seems, New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s name inches higher on the list of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates.
As a result, unlike any public figure in recent memory, he is increasingly compelled to assure reporters and the general public that his weight does not impair his ability to lead.
Christie, by any measure, is obese. This has provided endless fodder for late-night talk show hosts — David Letterman has ridiculed him for years — and politicos who hope to use his weight against him.
Stereotypes masquerade as facts: Fat is undisciplined. Fat is lazy. Fat is bound for an early grave.
Fat makes for great TV, too, the theory goes, from sitcoms to cable news shows. So after Christie jokingly pulled out a doughnut on Letterman’s show earlier this week, former White House physician Connie Mariano diagnosed the governor from afar on CNN:
“I worry that he may have a heart attack,” she said. “He may have a stroke. It’s almost like a time bomb waiting to happen unless he addresses those issues before he runs for office.”
Mariano worked for three presidents and wrote memoirs about her time at the White House. Visit her website, however, and you’ll find a photo of her only with former President Bill Clinton and a quote from him extolling her book. Combine her on-air interview with her website and she comes off as unprofessional and partisan.
Christie’s response to Mariano was typically brusque: Unless she does what a doctor is supposed to do — examine the patient and record his family history — “she should shut up.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than one-third of Americans are obese. Still, fat jokes are a popular form of entertainment in this country. If you’re on Facebook, for example, you probably have seen the photos of morbidly obese customers at Walmart. The comment threads about the ample backsides of unsuspecting shoppers will make you lose faith in humanity, I swear.
Such cruelty can play out differently in politics, which brings us back to Christie. His approval ratings soared in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Even those who hated him had to concede that he was there for the people of his state — so much so that he hugged the president and then fired back at those who dared to criticize him for his gratitude.
The flood lines receded, and the fat jokes returned, but Christie’s political opponents — Republicans and Democrats alike — are ill-advised to make his size a campaign issue. When it comes to the governor’s struggles with weight, millions of Americans are on his side. Don’t think for a minute that Christie doesn’t know that, too.
“If you talked to anybody who has struggled with their weight, what they would tell you is, ‘Every week, every month, every year, there’s a plan,’” Christie said Tuesday at a news conference in New Jersey. “The idea that somehow I don’t care about this — of course I care about it, and I’m making the best effort I can.”
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