How to Turn Chris Christie's Weight into an 'Issue'

It's not clear whether he's running for president, but it's very obvious he's a husky boy

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When people begin sentences with "Look, I’m sorry, but..." it's a signal they're about to say something mean, possibly sociopathic. That's how Michael Kinsley starts his Bloomberg View column about how New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is too fat to be president. The only way Christie should be given a pass on his weight is if "goes on a diet and shows he can stick to it," Kinsley says. In his public statements, Christie, it should be said, has been far more open to losing weight than to running for president. But that's not stopping everyone -- The New York TimesThe Washington Post, David Letterman, the ladies on The View -- from talking about his pants size. The discussions of Christie's weight follow a formula.

Step 1: It seems like it's none of my business, but it really is!
  • The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson: "You could argue that this is none of my business, but I disagree. Christie's problem with weight ceased being a private matter when he stepped into the public arena -- and it's not something you can fail to notice. Christie's weight is as legitimate an issue as the smoking habit that President Obama says he has finally kicked." (Obama's smoking wasn't really that much of an issue, though.)
  • Kinsley: "What business is it of ours whether Christie weighs too much (and who gets to define 'too much')? ... These points will all be made by political commentators... Let me save you the trouble, boys and girls. I can write that column myself: 'Liberals, who embrace diversity of all other kinds -- who demand quotas for transgender kindergarten teachers in public schools -- these selfsame liberals have the unmitigated gall to encourage discrimination against a truly oppressed group: people of weight.'"
  • ABC News' Joel Siegel: "For Chris Christie, there was no way around it. 'In case you haven't noticed, I'm slightly overweight,' he said during a debate.... Politics, after all, is a business of image and first-impressions..."
Step 2: Rationalizations: Then come the rationalizations pundits who usually engage in high-minded policy discussions to talk about a petty thing like Christie being a husky boy as if they were writers for supermaket tabloids.
Rationalization A: It's about self-control!
  • Kinsley: "One reason is that a presidential candidate should be judged on behavior and character, not just on policies -- especially because the chance these days of any actual policies being enacted is slim."
  • Robinson: "He prides himself on bullheaded determination and speaks often about the need for officials to display leadership. Well, Gov. Christie, lead thyself."
Rationalizaton B: Voters don't want want an overweight leader.
  • Siegel: "So there is no delicate way to ask this: Is Chris Christie too fat to win? ... Indeed, John McLaughlin, a New York-based Republican political consultant, said he routinely advises his clients to watch what they eat. 'You don't want them to gain weight, to look poorly on television,' he said."
  • Kinsley: "There is a theory, of course, that being fat would benefit Christie by authenticating his portrayal of Everyman ... That’s the theory. I don’t buy 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."
  • The View's Joy Behar: "The last fat president that we had was President Taft... I don’t think the country’s ready for a fat president again."
  • The New York Times' Michael D. Shear: "Ask Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey whether his ample weight is a political asset or an election-year liability, and the governor of New Jersey shrugs. 'It depends on the day,' Mr. Christie said earlier this year, noting that his visible struggles with girth could add to his 'everyman' appeal or could be a voter turnoff. 'Some days it may be an asset and some days it may be a liability.'"
Rationalization C: Think of his health.
  • Sherri Shepherd: On The View, Barbara Walters said Christie's weight had nothing to do with his experience or his ideas. "His lifespan!" Shepherd cut in.
  • Robinson: Christie "was briefly hospitalized for asthma -- a condition that he has had for most of his life. Researchers say that many respiratory problems, including asthma, are worsened by obesity."
Rationalization D: Think of the children!
  • Kinsley: "Controlling what you eat and how much is not easy, and it’s harder for some people than for others. But it’s not as difficult as curing a chemical addiction. With a determined, disciplined effort, Christie could thin down, and he should -- because the obesity epidemic is real and dangerous. And the president inevitably sets an example."
  • Robinson: "I refer to obesity as an epidemic because the percentage of obese adults has doubled in the past 40 years — and childhood obesity is increasing even more rapidly."

Step 3: Condescending advice. The columns end with a remark that makes you cringe.

  • Robinson: "Politically, I disagree with Christie on almost everything. I’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell him why. Today, I’d just like to offer him a bit of unsolicited, nonpartisan, sincere advice: Eat a salad and take a walk."
  • Kinsley: "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."
  • Siegel: Quoting a political analyst: "I'd argue it's a vision of government that is big, fat and out of control -- in contrast Christie, who is putting the government of New Jersey on a diet... The paradox is very interesting."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.