With all the emphasis on our elected representatives “looking more like America,” it’s surprising that no candidate has attempted a direct appeal to the overweight majority. Even Chris Christie, the popular jumbo-sized governor of New Jersey, seemed more defensive than assertive about his life-long weight problems. His Democratic opponent, scrawny jogger Jon Corzine, even aired some ads showing his portly opponent struggling to get out of a car, making obesity an open issue in the campaign. Eventually, Christie came up with an effective line to deal with such attacks at a time of big deficits and bloated budgets in the garden state. “Better a fat governor and a lean budget,” he declared, “than a lean governor and a fat budget”. Christie’s soaring popularity as he stands up to special interests and slashes spending may make him the Great Fat Hope among political porkers.
In a nation where every disadvantaged minority clamors for more prominent representation, some candidates of girth will eventually break through at the highest levels of national politics. In other fields of endeavor, extra poundage hardly counts as an insurmountable obstacle, as figures as varied as Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh, Ruben Stoddard, Michael Moore, Rosie O’Donnell and David Ortiz amply demonstrate.
In a sense, we shun heavy-weight politicians because unhealthful behavior has replaced immoral conduct as our most visible and comfortably denounced form of self-destructiveness. We can argue endlessly about what forms of sexual expression constitute unacceptable indulgence (though we’ve reached unanimous disapproval on the likes of John Edwards or Jesse James), but we instantly, easily agree that obesity remains indefensible. We similarly rush to abjure smoking – which is why President Obama so carefully hides his cigarette habit. In the past, when nearly all Americans aspired to a traditional family life with a white picket fence and adorable dog, we elevated politicians who seemed (like John Kennedy, to all appearances) to personify our highest ideals and desires. Today, we feel much less certain about the proper path for intimate arrangements (with 40% of all births occurring out of wedlock) but we know what we want in terms of fitness and a slender body-build. No matter how eloquent or accomplished a fat candidate may seem. In today’s superficial and judgmental world few parents will say they want their children to follow his example.
With all the serious challenges faced by our turbulent nation one can only hope that we’ll soon allow some fleshly presidential contender to cross this final frontier and to demonstrate that extra weight won’t prevent the solution of weighty issues, and that a big man (or woman) can still take on the biggest challenges.