Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ruth: Christie's weighty political considerations

Don't you suspect it's likely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a long hard look at himself and mused: "Whoa, I think I'm gonna need a bigger mirror."

Think of this as Christie's "Come to Papa John's" moment.

So it was understandable when Christie announced he had recently undergone a stomach-reducing Lap-Band procedure in an effort to get his weight — estimated to be in the Tony Siragusa range of 350 pounds — under control.

No doubt Christie's insistence he underwent the procedure for personal health and family reasons was entirely heartfelt. The man is only 50 years old and obviously wants to be around to see his children graduate and eventually produce grandchildren to bounce on a considerably smaller lap.

When you begin to see yourself as a eulogy-in-waiting it can be a pretty sobering wake-up call that a change in menu might be a good idea.

But Christie is a political animal of great electoral appetites, too, who also wakes up everyday humming Hail to the Chief. He knows his Oliver Hardyesque girth has become a running punch line for editorial cartoonists, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live and probably even cable's Eternal Word Television Network.

So Christie understands it is awfully difficult to run for the presidency pontificating on international affairs or tax policy when everyone is looking at you and thinking that old joke: "Your governor is so fat, when he goes swimming the whales start singing We Are Family."

It doesn't take a savvy political consultant to make Christie think about the 2016 Republican primary season and consider whom he would be sharing debate stages with — a lineup of Ken doll bridal cake grooms.

Fast forward to a snowy night in New Hampshire. Up there on the dais are South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Florida's most junior Sen. Marco Rubio and former vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Maybe even Jeb Bush might show up, or the senator from the Planet Zircon 12, Kentucky's Rand Paul — all of them tall, lean and well turned-out.

Then there would be Christie running the risk of being asked in the spin room to confirm or deny rumors he and Jabba the Hutt were separated at birth.

Call it a cheap shot. Call it shallow. Call the fat snarkiness the last bastion of discrimination tolerated in this country. But don't forget to call it the American political system, which in this vast mass media age is a profile of superficiality.

Looks do matter in presidential politics. Does anyone honestly believe the loopier than Mr. Dithers Sarah Palin would ever have been picked as John McCain's running mate if she had looked like Phyllis Diller?

And you would probably have to go all the way back to 1968 to find the last time the nation elected a president who was not exactly the handsomest chap in the sweating, slouching, glowering Richard Nixon.

It's not that Christie doesn't have a Morrison's Buffet line of political problems with the GOP base. After all, in addition to supporting gun control and immigration reform, Christie actually palled around with Barack Obama and praised the president's leadership during the Hurricane Sandy crisis.

Or put another way, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is that Chris Christie is not an ideologue, which these days can be a seriously disqualifying flaw in becoming the GOP standard-bearer.

You have to wish Christie well as he faces the considerable challenges of losing an entire person in the hope of extending both his personal and political life expectancy.

Christie's waistline travails have been compared to the last corpulent commander-in-fried chicken to inhabit the White House, William Howard Taft, who served from 1909 to 1913 and weighed in as well around 350 pounds.

There's an apocryphal story that Taft was such a lump of goo he once got stuck in the presidential bathtub. But Taft should also serve as an inspiration to Christie.

After leaving the presidency Taft shed about 80 pounds and went on to serve as the chief justice of the United States. Not bad.

So Christie can take heart that if he drops the weight and pursues the White House, he just might be in a position to eat his opponents' lunch — but only on whole wheat.


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