Reports have emerged over the weekend that powerful and deep-pocketed Republican fundraisers are again pressuring New Jersey governor Chris Christie to run for president in 2012, amidst a backdrop of lackluster candidates who have failed to ignite the GOP faithful.
Christie, who is widely admired among Republican circles for his fiscal conservatism, sharp spending cuts and strong language against unions, is reportedly reconsidering his earlier refusal to throw his hat into the ring.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Christie has been inundated by a relentless stream of calls to run for the White House.
In the unlikely event that Christie becomes a Republican candidate for president and actually gains the nomination, I feel that he has no chance of winning the election – and it has absolutely nothing to do with politics or his legislative expertise.
While I admire the governor very much -- to put it bluntly (as Christie himself would), the governor is fat, some would say grossly obese – and there has never been an overweight president in my lifetime (and none since William Howard Taft, a 300+-pound behemoth in the early 1900s).
We live in an age of relentless, 24-hour-a-day news cycles – where image, appearance and looks often dominate the discourse.
Indeed, no matter how accomplished Christie becomes in his political career, it's hard to believe that the American people would ever elect a fat man as president – particularly in this era of cable television and Internet that has swamped our pop culture.
Taking an unscientific study, in most presidential elections of the last half-century (roughly the age of television’s domination of politics), the taller or better-looking candidate has usually won the election.
Consider the recent slew of U.S. presidents: Barack Obama (tall, slender, no obvious health issues, aside from a one-time smoking habit); George W. Bush (one-time partier and drinker transformed himself into a lean, strong health nut and obsessive jogger and skydiver); Bill Clinton (despite his craving for fast food and some weight problems, he generally looked very good on camera); George H. W. Bush (tall, sleek, athletic former war hero); Ronald Reagan (despite his advanced age and dyed hair, Reagan was in exceptionally good health and still retained much of his Hollywood leading-man looks while in the White House).
If any of these aforementioned chief executives were as heavy as Christie, they might not have gotten out of the primaries. The TV camera is cruel and merciless – candidates still get insulted and jeered at by the public and media for any physical imperfection as it is (Obama’s ears, George W. Bush’s squint; Richard Nixon’s ski-slope nose and permanent five o’clock shadow, Jimmy Carter’s too-large teeth, etc.).
Image counts. It may not be fair, but political candidates are now packaged almost like pop stars – when was the last time you saw a national leader who was rumpled, ungroomed and/or overweight?
What would the global media do to Christie?
Chris Matthews of MSNBC has already insulted Christie for his weight. During their bitter New Jersey gubernatorial race in 2009, Democratic opponent John Corzine ran ads explicitly mocking Christie's girth.
Christie’s weight problem would also raise health worries. A few months ago, he was rushed to the hospital after complaining he had trouble breathing. He was later released and said he was fine. Not only is Christie dangerously overweight, but he also suffers from asthma – and he’s only 49 years old.
None of this would generate much confidence (in spite of some Republicans’ attraction to Christie’s fiscal toughness).
To his credit, Christie has been candid and cheerful about his obvious girth.
I weigh too much because I eat too much, he once told reporters. And I eat some bad things, too.
He also told CNN: I'm really struggling, been struggling for a long time with it [weight problem], and I know that it would be better for my kids if I got it more under control. And so I do feel a sense of guilt at times about that.”
But here’s the most ironic thing: Christie would actually be a perfect symbol for this country since obesity is rising at alarming levels.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in every state in the country at least 20 percent of adults are obese (in Mississippi, the rate is 34 percent). And these numbers have been rising for years – Christie is merely part of a phenomenon that has been brewing for decades, as a result of too much junk food, too little exercise and too much of sitting in front of a TV set or computer.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.