The weighty issue
So it turns out Chris Christie is fat.
If, somehow, that fact had escaped you before, surely it came slamming home last week after he appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” There was the 50-year-old governor of New Jersey jokingly snacking on a doughnut as the talk-show host — who has taken a jab or two at Christie’s weight — gently asked him about his girth. The bit was in keeping with how Christie usually deals with weight-related humor. He seems to feel the best defense is a good fat joke.
The laughter curdled the following day, however, as Dr. Connie Mariano, a former White House physician, told CNN that Christie is a “time bomb” who, if elected, might die in office. Christie exploded, calling her “completely irresponsible,” and a “hack,” and told her to “shut up” about his health. After that, Christie reportedly spoke to her by phone and, presumably, told her what he really thinks about her. All of which has ignited a national debate that has raged from the couch on “The View” to the op-ed page of The New York Times.
And here, several things need to be said.
The first: Christie says what really bothered him is that one of his young children heard the doctor say his dad might die and came to ask if that was true. Even granting that Christie’s response was over the top, is there anyone who cannot empathize with the fatherly anguish that caused it?
The second: Does anyone really believe Christie does not already know he is overweight? Or that he is not already aware that this carries serious health risks?
The third: When has the hectoring of friends ever convinced an obese person to make a serious and lasting commitment to weight loss? Does it not, more often, trigger resentment than resolve? So how much less effective is national hectoring likely to be?
The fourth: There is something disingenuous in framing this as a question of Christie’s medical fitness for the presidency. The present holder of that office is a recovering nicotine addict and surely the lethality of tobacco is at least as great as that of fat, if not more so. Yet, in 2008, when the nation was debating his fitness for office, the fact that Barack Obama was a smoker rated barely a mention.
What is on display here, then, is neither noble concern for Christie’s health, nor high-minded rumination over what constitutes physical fitness for the presidency, but, rather, irresolution, the schizophrenia of a fat people, hooked in equal measures on fried chicken and Nikes, supersize drinks and fad diets. It is a blithe duality that makes it possible for a morning show to do a cooking segment filled with butter and cheese one moment and then in the next, with barely a twinge of irony, pivot to a segment on how to choose the best exercise equipment.
The problem with Christie is that he makes the irresolution manifest. His corpulence registers differently than does that of a Kirstie Alley or an Al Roker. On a celebrity, it is seen as human drama in which we have a rooting interest. Christie doesn’t get that pass, because he isn’t a celebrity — he is a politician, a leader, and maybe, a future president.
And the tone of this conversation, the high profile of this conversation — indeed, the very fact of this conversation — seem to suggest that in such a person, fat is almost a betrayal. If elected president, after all, Christie would be the living representative of all of us. One suspects that fact gives many people pause.
Because if Christie does, in fact, represent us, irresolution becomes more difficult, duality more threadbare, and the guy who says his pants shrunk in the wash must find a new excuse.
So don’t hate him because he’s bountiful. The governor is a mirror, reflecting truths we decline to accept. Some people seem to think that, once declined, a truth thereby goes away.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may write to him via email at email@example.com, or by calling toll-free at 888-251-4407. His column publishes most Wednesdays and Sundays.