Are We Ready for a Fat President?

Chris Christie might run, but our country might not be ready for him

In American politics, we often talk about the public being “ready,” as though history is standing in the vestibule, tapping its foot impatiently, while the voters finish applying mascara. So far we’ve been ready for a Catholic president (Kennedy), a black president (Clinton—er, Obama) and a female almost-president (Hilary). We were ready for a Jewish vice-president, but thank god we didn’t have to prove it. But are we ready for a fat president?

First, let’s define our terms. You can say “heavy,” “overweight,” “zaftig,” “BBW,” “thick” or (as I say after binging on Girl Scout cookies) “voluptuous.” But the word most people use—and not kindly—is fat. And that’s the word people are going to use if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie runs for president.

The governor’s star began to rise last year, when someone, somewhere in the GOP realized Christie was smart, well-spoken and not a Mormon or Sarah Palin.

But the weight issue came up quickly.

Chris Matthews, at a December 2010 public appearance in D.C., told the crowd: “I saw [Christie] the other day … he must be 300 plus, and that’s something he’s just gotta deal with because you’re not going to say, ‘I’m going to cut the budget’—well, how about starting with supper?”

That same month, pundit and professor Lamont Hill appeared on Fox 29 and said Christie could never be president. Why not? Hill was emphatic: “He’s fat!”

Hill and Matthews weren’t being cynical; they were being realistic. Thin is always in—we know that. And there’s still an incredible bias against overweight people in this country, which is confusing given that everyone is fatter than ever. We are, it seems, a nation of self-haters.

A recent study of online news coverage of the obesity epidemic showed that 72 percent of the photos used in those stories portrayed overweight people “in a negative, stigmatizing manner.” You know those photos—they show headless people with big thighs and enormous bellies and, somewhere in the frame, a burger or bag of chips.

Such portrayals are accepted without much protest. If a person is fat in this culture, they are assumed to be lazy, sloppy, unhealthy and undisciplined. Above all, they are to blame. The fat is their fault.

And they are punished. Fat people earn 12 percent less than thin people. They receive fewer promotions. They get subpar healthcare. In a recent poll of ob/gyn doctors, 14.2 percent of them admitted they refuse to treat obese people. Not that they dislike it, but that they refuse to do it.

Overweight people have a much harder time getting hired for jobs. I’m guessing that includes the job of U.S. president.

Christie has said repeatedly he won’t run. But you know how that goes: “I’m not running, I’m not running … whoops, I’m running!” Politicians act as if they’ve accidentally stepped in something rather than made an elaborate calculus to start a campaign.

And Matt Katz, who does the Inky’s Christie Chronicles, wrote yesterday: “Christie is still considered the candidate most likely to emerge as the Republicans’ savior and eventual nominee.”

But Katz suggests the GOP has some persuading to do. Who could blame Christie for his reluctance? There’ll certainly be hurtful personal attacks, and at least one David Letterman Top 10 list. And while many politicians will play it safe and pretend they don’t notice Christie’s size, there will also be plenty of underhanded tactics with which Christie is already familiar: In the New Jersey gubernatorial contest, opponent John Corzine created an attack ad accusing Christie of “throwing his weight around.” Pun intended.

I think Christie will ultimately decide to run. What makes me think that? He’s losing weight these days. He’s getting ready.