“We never repent of having eaten too little” — Thomas Jefferson

August 17, 2011


I caught a few minutes of Ann Coulter’s appearance on one of the Sunday talk shows this week, and found that by not tuning in earlier I had missed hearing her reasons for promoting Chris Christie as a Republican presidential candidate.
Apparently, it wasn’t a half-hearted endorsement; I heard her refer to the governor as “my first love.”
Coulter is not the first person to make this case. Christie is a controversial figure in terms of his public policy and his style, but he seems to be developing a following around the country.

Still this kind of talk has an unfamiliar ring to us in New Jersey because, except for Bill Bradley’s failed attempt to win the Democratic nomination in 2000, making presidents has not been our thing in recent decades.

Even the two we contributed in the distant past had imperfect credentials. Woodrow Wilson wasn’t born in New Jersey, and Grover Cleveland – who was born here and is buried here – spent most of his life someplace else.


Christie hasn’t lent much credibility to the idea that he would be a willing candidate, but if he should run, one thing that has come up already and surely would get a lot of attention in the news coverage – and late-night commentaries – would be his girth.
Christie himself has often acknowledged that his weight is a result of his eating habits and that it is unhealthy.
In the world we live in, it is also a potential liability from the aesthetic point of view.

There already have been stories speculating as to whether a man of Christie’s size can be elected president – kind of a diss on the intelligence of the body politic.

In fact, that question has already been answered twice by the elections of William Howard Taft and Grover Cleveland.

Taft, the largest president so far, was six feet tall and weighed more than 330 pounds when he was elected president in 1908. After Taft had left the presidency, he lost about 80 pounds, which lowered his blood pressure and improved his ability to sleep.


Cleveland – whose weight isn’t mentioned as frequently as Taft’s – was five-feet-eleven and weighed between 235 and 280 pounds. His weight is noticeable in photographs from his presidential years, but it apparently didn’t trouble the citizens who gave him the majority of the popular vote three times in a row – the only president besides Franklin Roosevelt to achieve that. (In 1888, Benjamin Harrison won the majority of the electoral votes.)
The criticism directed at political candidates in the 19th and early 20th centuries could be as cruel, in its own way, as the attacks that are leveled today. Cartoonists gleefully exploited the proportions of both Cleveland and Taft, and no one’s physical appearance attracted more public ridicule than that of Abraham Lincoln.

But the pervasive and relentless nature of media in our age add a lot of destructive power to negative messages.

Some voters might be legitimately concerned about the life-threatening nature of Christie’s weight, but the web of electronic communications has given people the idea that they can – and should – say virtually anything that comes into their heads. The comments posted on web sites suggest that many writers think it’s a virtue to be as coarse and demeaning as they can.

I noticed, for instance, that folks who frequent a Facebook page for graduates of my high school alma mater, say some pretty awful things about former teachers and classmates – undaunted by the fact that most of their targets are still living and could easily read these messages.

For his own well-being – particularly if he takes on the rigors of a presidential campaign and a term or two in the White House – Christie ought to do something about his weight.

Besides prolonging his life, it would spare him and his family the meanness that has become the lingua franca of smart alecs in the digital age.

Woodrow Wilson with his predecessor, William Howard Taft, shortly before Wilson was inaugurated as the 28th president. In 1921, the 29th president, Warren G. Harding, appointed a slimmer Taft chief justice of the United States. Taft is the only person to have held both offices.


5 Responses to ““We never repent of having eaten too little” — Thomas Jefferson”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    First, let me stipulate that it would be good for Gov. Christie to lose that weight, for health and other reasons.

    But as things are now, that weight might be as much of an asset as a liability. After all, there are a lot of folk out there pretty danged tired of children’s lemonade stands being shut down and church ladies being forbidden to sell their cakes and pies. There are people who think there should be a salt shaker on the table for those who prefer to indulge, and a whole lot of folks who resent not being able to pack their children’s school lunches.

    And of course, everyone hates a nag. Being told by your mother to “eat your veggies” is one thing. Being told by the President to “eat your peas” is quite another.

    So. I can envision quite a campaign, one designed to play directly to the deeply-seated resentments of the American public. Imagine a smiling Christie with a slogan beneath: “He’s fat and happy, but he’s not dumb”. Or, Christie in a chef’s apron and toque in a stainless steel kitchen, looking for all the world like Emeril and saying, “Let’s get this economy cooking!” Or how about the good governor at a picnic table, holding a double-bacon-cheeseburger and declaring, “This is how my palms get greased. Period.”

    Oh, my. And that’s just off the top of my head. If he decides to run, I’d love to be on his ad committee. 😉

  2. charlespaolino Says:

    I hear that. Up here, we have to deal with Mayor Bloomberg, who might be the nicest guy in the world, but who also wants to dictate what people eat and drink — not, I think, the role of the mayor of New York or any other entity of government.

    I once produced a radio series for Penn State, and one of my guests was a professor who ran an obesity clinic. He published a paper on the scientific evidence for the stereotypical “jolly fat man.” He found that in some cases there was something to it, that some people (like Babe Ruth) are overweight in the first place because they are uninhibited, and that getting them to lose the weight often has a negative effect on their personalities.

  3. Ron Says:

    Didn’t a large man in a three piece suit signify wealth and power in that age? Certainly Chester Arthur and Theodore Roosevelt were no slouches in the girth department either. There’s a poignant story in Edmund Morris’ book Colonel Roosevelt about Taft climbing the hill to TR’s final resting place, huffing and puffing all the way.

    Although not a big man myself, I usually never find much funny with fat jokes. The new mayor of Toronto is a big man for example, but his size is used as a weapon against him, which is what would happen to Christie right away. For those who get all their news from late night talk shows, Christie would be thus defined.

    Also fat joke comedians are like those who swear for shock value; their material just isn’t good enough without it.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      I agree with you about fat jokes — and any jokes of that kind, particularly when they’re directed at an individual. I discussed this once with Sally Struthers, who gained a lot of weight in the years after her run on “All in the Family.” I heard one of the late-night hosts (it might have been Letterman) make a coarse remark about her size, and it was made in the context of charitable work that Struthers was doing on behalf of children. Struthers was philosophical about it in the sense that she wasn’t interested in responding to that particular slur, but she did say that she didn’t understand the lack of regard for a person’s feelings.

      • shoreacres Says:

        Re: lack of regard for human feelings – there are plenty of people in the world who seek to elevate themselves by denigrating others. The feelings of the “others” are simply beside the point, I fear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s