Obesity in High Places

hat

Along with all the attention that has been paid to childhood obesity, adult obesity has come in for plenty of notice, even in the political realm. This threat never materialized, but about a year ago it seemed possible that a rather overweight fellow might become a presidential candidate, here in the U.S. of A. Bloomberg writer Michael Kinsley began his commentary on this unequivocally:

Look, I’m sorry, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cannot be president: He is just too fat. Maybe, if he runs for president and we get to know him, we will overlook this awkward issue… But we shouldn’t overlook it — unless he goes on a diet and shows he can stick to it.

Kinsley goes on to admit that is a discriminatory, patronizing, and even coercive attitude. Some Americans might not even think the guy was seriously overweight. Who are doctors and scientists, to write these definitions and force them on the entire country? Is a candidate’s Body Mass Index anyone else’s business? Is a candidate’s weight related to his policies?

This story came from a Childhood Obesity News reader:

Many years ago, my husband and I planned to get deeply involved with a cause that would have vastly changed our direction and our lifestyle. In the same way that a charitable group will organize a ‘Walk’ or a ‘Run’ to raise money, the corpulent leader of this cause announced that he would lose weight, and accept pledges from financial supporters, x number of dollars for each pound he shed. But every time we saw the leader, he was more overweight than ever. We lost faith and dropped out.

Whether or not that is a sensible or correct way to feel, it is a feeling people have. On the other hand, Kinsley suggests a counterbalancing tendency:

There is a theory, of course, that being fat would benefit Christie by authenticating his portrayal of Everyman… Being overweight establishes Christie’s bona fides as a populist, and as someone indifferent to the superficial trends…

But then he discards that theory, because most fat Americans don’t identify themselves as fat, and even if they do, they plan to be thin some day, so never mind those fat people. In other words, they do not automatically see themselves as members of the same club. The biggest question of all is whether obesity is a character issue. Kinsley offers the argument for that point of view:

Controlling what you eat and how much is not easy, and it’s harder for some people than for others. But it’s not as difficult as curing a chemical addiction. With a determined, disciplined effort, Christie could thin down, and he should — because the obesity epidemic is real and dangerous. And the president inevitably sets an example… Perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first.

And it’s a compelling argument to some. If a person can’t exert control over her or himself, should that person even want to control an entire nation? Anyone who keeps up with the news can rattle off the names of several dozen politicians who have shown evidence of being unable to rule themselves, whether in the dining room or other rooms of the house. Or the House. Or the Senate either, for that matter. Actually, very few people can truthfully claim to live by the motto quoted in our illustration — “I rule what’s under this hat.”

Contributing to the dialogue about obese candidates, The New Republic‘s senior editor Timothy Noah published “Fat Presidents: A Survey.” The presidents concerned were Taft, Cleveland, McKinley, Taylor, and Theodore Roosevelt. Noah reached a conclusion after compiling a chart:

… [M]atching the five medically obese presidents with their BMIs and how they fared in Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s 1996 ‘greatness’ rankings of all the presidents based on a survey of 32 experts (most of them academic historians)… obesity is, if anything, a slight presidential plus… The judgment of history, then, is that fat presidents, though not above average, are in the high range of average.

And then, there was Winston Churchill… At any rate, the circumference of the candidate’s waistlines turned out to be a non-issue in this election cycle. Things are complicated enough already.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Requiem for a Governor Before He’s in the Ring: Michael Kinsley,” Bloomberg, 09/09/11
Source: “Fat Presidents: A Survey,” The New Republic, 09/27/11

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