Give Chris Christie a Break on His Weight

Chris Christie is taking all the hullabaloo about his body fat in stride. But really, writes Michelle Cottle, it’s the rest of us who should calm down.

So did you hear the one about Chris Christie and the 40-foot pork roll? No? Well, give it time. You will. Because cracking wise about the New Jersey governor’s fat ass seems to have become the great American pastime.

Don’t get me wrong. I like to mock politicians’ vices as much as the next journalist. I’ll even cop to taking a kind of grim satisfaction in seeing a male pol hammered again and again for physical flaws in a way usually reserved for the ladies.

But after the hullaballoo stemming from the governor’s Letterman appearance Monday—during which, among other fat-themed fun, Christie whipped out a jelly doughnut on air and started chowing down in a self-deprecating nod to all the weight jokes Dave has been telling at his expense—I’m wondering if things have maybe gotten out of hand.

The day after the Letterman appearance, at a press conference about Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, Christie was pressed about the public’s concerns over the impact of his weight on his health and whether he had any sort of plan to deal with the problem. Rather than getting all huffy about the intrusion (which, let me tell you, is where most gals would have gone with that), the governor good-naturedly copped to his struggles (as is his wont), expressed solidarity with the millions of other overweight Americans, and assured everyone that, in fact, “there is always a plan.” The rest of the media jumped on the exchange double quick, and next thing you know, the smugly svelte folks at Good Morning America are jawing about the governor’s weight, chattering about its possible effect on his presidential ambitions, and even hauling in Bill Clinton’s former weight-loss doc to fret over whether Christie might drop dead at any moment.

Enough already. Cut the guy some freaking slack. Will he need to drop some pounds (or, as GMA’s Amy Robach lectured, to “lay off the doughnuts”) if he ultimately wants to run for president? Maybe. Maybe not. More glaring obstacles have been overcome by talented pols. But at this stage, it’s not yet the entire nation’s business how fat Christie is. Yeah, yeah. Being that big increases his risk for numerous health problems. And if the time comes when it seems like Christie’s obesity is significantly impacting his ability to do his job, then New Jerseyans will want to factor that into their votes. Until then, if the governor needs to eat an extra slice or two to handle the stress of watching a bunch of posturing congressional jackasses threaten to hold his state’s disaster aid hostage, so be it.

More to the point, why is Christie’s fatness exponentially more problematic than, say, John Boehner’s manic chain-smoking or crazy tanning fetish? And what about some of the borderline alcoholics we’ve watched swan about the halls of the Capitol over the years? Or, if we really want to fret over an impaired ability to govern, what about the members of Congress who cling to office until they are so senile they can barely recognize their own wives? (Lighthearted case in point: a now deceased senator once tried to compel a former colleague of mine to escort him to the bathroom because the lawmaker mistook the young reporter for his aide.) I’ve been in Washington going on 17 years, during which time I’ve dealt with more than one lawmaker unnervingly past his prime.

Many people equate fatness with weakness—a lack of discipline, self-control, or character. Maybe. Then again, Michele Bachmann is rail thin and so tightly wound, she looks ready to spontaneously combust. Would anyone really feel more comfortable with her making vital governing decisions than with Christie? At least we can kind of guess what Christie’s coping mechanism is.

Fatness may be a flaw, but it is not a singularly terrible flaw. And God knows it is a widespread one in this country—and thus one many, many, many Americans relate to.

Indeed, through all of this personal probing, Christie comes across as strikingly likable, charming, sympathetic even. This is no mean feat for a guy who has traditionally not fared well in the polls with women voters because of his famously in-your-face persona. But if there’s one thing women appreciate, it’s weight battles. (Just ask Oprah.) Better still, while some pols might come across as too girlie when talking about the size of their derrieres, and thus risk alienating the more macho elements of the electorate and punditocracy, the pugnacious Christie obviously doesn’t have that problem. ‬‬‬(I dare Glenn Beck to try and revoke the governor’s man card.)

I bet I wasn’t the only person impressed when, at the end of his fat talk at Tuesday’s presser, Christie gently informed reporters that, while he cared about the issue, “I’m not going to be overly self-consumed about this.”

Good advice for the rest of the chattering class.