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Chris Christie's weight: Why it matters

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Chris Christie's weight: Why it matters

By Julian Zelizer, CNN Contributor
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon May 13, 2013
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has become a well-known face for the Republican party, but in his home state he's still the second-best-known Boss, next to Bruce Springsteen. Pictured above, Christie speaks at a news conference on October 4, 2011, in Trenton, the capital.New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has become a well-known face for the Republican party, but in his home state he's still the second-best-known Boss, next to Bruce Springsteen. Pictured above, Christie speaks at a news conference on October 4, 2011, in Trenton, the capital.
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Chris Christie: New Jersey's other Boss
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chris Christie, a potential presidential candidate, had weight-loss surgery
  • Julian Zelizer says candidates shouldn't be judged on appearances
  • But Americans will inevitably take weight and fitness into account, he says
  • Zelizer: Job of presidency is constantly in public eye, and extremely demanding

Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and "Governing America."

Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made headlines last week when one of his aides admitted that he had surgery to lose weight. Christie said that the surgery had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with his health and his family. Christie said: "It's not a career issue for me. It is a long-term health issue for me and that's the basis on which I made this decision. It's not about anything other than that."

It is impossible to know whether we should take Christie at face value. Given that there has been ongoing speculation about his presidential aspirations for 2016, often coupled with discussions of his struggle with weight, it is certainly not unreasonable to wonder whether these are related.

Why do Americans care about the weight of a candidate and why is appearance an issue in presidential elections? There is very little chance that the issue will go away. Certainly, old-fashioned bias has something to do with this concern.

The willingness to ridicule obesity and make fun of appearances based on weight remains more acceptable than other kinds of biased comments that are no longer tolerated. One study by Yale University recently showed that male jurors were biased against heavy women, and more likely to find them guilty than leaner women. Some have called obesity the last acceptable bias in American life.

We are also in a political era when politicians are more in the public eye than ever before. Like it or not, appearance matters. When William Howard Taft -- weighing in at over 300 pounds -- was president, most Americans rarely saw him, though jokes about his weight still circulated. But it was still a very different world. In the early 20th century, there was no television or Internet broadcasting constant footage of the president in action. Other than the occasional still image in the newspaper, or the footage in the newsreels before movies until the 1940s, politics was still a medium of words and print.

Since the emergence of television, however, we live in a visual political culture where appearances have become much more important. We vote based on what we see, or at least that is part of the calculation. It has become more important for presidents to convey the charisma of a John F. Kennedy and harder for those who are not as easy on the eye.

Shallow visual preferences are not the only dynamic at work, however. The last half century has witnessed massive improvements in personal health. Americans are living longer and living better as a result of great advances in our understanding of nutrition and physical care. It is no longer uncommon for Americans to use a gym on a regular basis and to be much more cautious about what they eat. We expect politicians to live by the same standards. Indeed, we want our leaders to set examples for the rest of the nation.

Christie is certainly not the only candidate to face these kinds of questions. When Bill Clinton ran for the presidency in 1992, the media covered his tendency to eat junk food on the campaign trail and his weight gains were treated as problematic. After Clinton gained 30 pounds during the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton noted, "The good news is, my husband loves to eat and enjoys it. The bad news is, he loves to eat, even when things are not always right for him."

Another reason that weight and other physical health concerns have become more important is that the job of the presidency has become much more demanding. As the role of the federal government has expanded at home and the presence of the United States overseas has intensified, there is much more for a president to handle on a daily basis. The massive size of the executive branch and intense 24-hour news cycle makes the presidency a physically brutal job.

We often watch as presidents enter the White House looking young and spry, then exit with gray hair, tired and visibly worn down.

As with many other high-powered jobs, physical health is important to the ability of a person to handle these kinds of tasks, so it is logical that these considerations enter into the conversation.

All of this is to say that there are many reasons why voters and reporters will talk about Christie's weight, and why Christie's weight could become a major issue if he runs for president in 2016.

It's important to note that there is some social science evidence that in certain cases voters may not be swayed by weight. In fact, according to one study, voters in certain cases can prefer obese to non-obese candidates. The studies showing this finding are still limited and, from the evidence of the presidential races of the past century, the signs still point to voters preferring candidates who are leaner.

There is clearly a huge risk in making our decisions about leaders based on appearances, which really do tell us little about what a person would do when faced with the big challenges of the day. Regardless, the conversation is unlikely to subside, given the times in which we live.


Nerdy White Person

by on May. 13, 2013 at 8:11 AM
Replies (31-40):
Clairwil
by Ruby Member on May. 13, 2013 at 11:45 PM
Quoting TranquilMind:

Well, it should matter to him, if he would like to see his 55th birthday.

Yes, but how much should it matter to the voter?

Winston Churchill has a far higher body mass index than Christie.  (and smoked too).   Yet he was very energetic while Prime Minister of Great Britain.


TranquilMind
by Platinum Member on May. 14, 2013 at 1:47 AM

 How do you know who had the higher BMI?  They both looked pretty large.  Churchill did live until 90, but maybe has has good genes. 

Quoting Clairwil:

Quoting TranquilMind:

Well, it should matter to him, if he would like to see his 55th birthday.

Yes, but how much should it matter to the voter?

Winston Churchill has a far higher body mass index than Christie.  (and smoked too).   Yet he was very energetic while Prime Minister of Great Britain.


 

Shoota
by Lauren on May. 14, 2013 at 1:53 AM

I think people will find anything to look down upon our presidents. I'm glad he is doing something about his weight and getting healthy.

white_wolf454
by Member on May. 14, 2013 at 3:16 AM

People said the same about Obama that no person mixed or of diffrent race then white would be the chef and here we are :) . so anything is possable 

Quoting FromAtoZ:


Quoting NWP:

Why not? I voted for Hillary in the 2008 primary. If McCain had chosen Leiberman over Palin I might have voted for him in the general election. We need to move past the partisan BS. A split ticket could be just what we need.

Quoting 12hellokitty:




Quoting NWP:

Hillary/Christie 2016!



eye rolling

I absolutely agree.

I don't see it happening, Hell would probably freeze over first.

But it could certainly serve us well.  People are too defined by the lines drawn, that is more than evident in our little part of the world here on CM.

Open minds, open politics.  What we could possibly accomplish!!!


Clairwil
by Ruby Member on May. 14, 2013 at 3:20 AM
Quoting TranquilMind:

How do you know who had the higher BMI?

Churchill had a BMI of 48.   (His height and weight are known, because records were released 30 years after his death - no guessing from photographs required.)


RandRMomma
by Maya on May. 14, 2013 at 3:23 AM
I don't see why it's anyone's business.

Just because someone is in the public eye doesn't mean we have to know everything about them.
yourspecialkid
by Platinum Member on May. 14, 2013 at 9:24 AM

 

Quoting tweety101149:

 Hmm, you mean a president that cares about people in the lower income brackets instead of just the 1%.  He may not be perfect..., but is certainly better than than the last president'.  

Quoting yourspecialkid:

 I think it is absurd.  I wouldn't care if the President required a special lift to get on AF1 if he was a good president that actually CARED about the people that hired him.

 

 

 

 No, I am talking about a president with actual solutions intead of a whiny blame of someone else.

So sorry to hear about your 99% issues though.  You should move to a healthy red state like Wyoming....then you can be part of the 53%...you know, the portion of us that pays or everyone else.

 

-Celestial-
by Pepperlynn on May. 14, 2013 at 9:29 AM



Quoting yourspecialkid:

 

Quoting tweety101149:

 Hmm, you mean a president that cares about people in the lower income brackets instead of just the 1%.  He may not be perfect..., but is certainly better than than the last president'.  

Quoting yourspecialkid:

 I think it is absurd.  I wouldn't care if the President required a special lift to get on AF1 if he was a good president that actually CARED about the people that hired him.

 



 No, I am talking about a president with actual solutions intead of a whiny blame of someone else.

So sorry to hear about your 99% issues though.  You should move to a healthy red state like Wyoming....then you can be part of the 53%...you know, the portion of us that pays or everyone else.

 


Quote:

Some students arrive without food in their bellies. Others don’t have winter clothing to protect them from the cold.

Greta Hinderliter has spent 13 years assisting homeless children for the Natrona County School District. When she started out, she identified 19 homeless children. Now, she averages 300 a year.

The district has a better process now for identifying homeless kids. But that alone doesn’t account for the increase.

“I have more and more kids that don’t have shoes, don’t have socks, don’t have a winter coat,” she said.

Hinderliter’s experience reflects a five-year rise in the number of Wyoming children in poverty. An estimated 14 percent of the state’s kids lived in poverty last year, up from 11 percent in 2005, according to figures released this week by Wyoming Kids Count.

The trend is slightly more pronounced for kids under age 5. The percentage of young children in poverty increased from 15 percent in 2005 to 19 percent last year.

“My numbers are up, definitely,” Hinderliter said. “There are a lot of families who are living on the edge of homelessness.”

The increase in poverty rates is largely a result of the recession, said Kids Count Director Marc Homer. Nearly one out of every five children in Wyoming now live in households earning below the federal poverty level — just more than $22,000 a year for a family of four.

“It means families are having more difficulty providing an adequate lifestyle for their children,” he said.

Wyoming’s child poverty rate remains below the national average of 20 percent. But it could still have long-lasting impacts on the state, according to Homer.

A study published earlier this year found that adults who experienced poverty as children didn’t go as far in school, earned less money and were more likely to report poor overall health. Men were more likely to be arrested and women were more likely to give birth out of wedlock.

 

My Aunt and Uncle just left Wyoming. If your not a rancher or a farm hand theres nothing there. 


http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/child-poverty-increasing-in-wyoming/article_11b18d25-b27b-5f24-b609-7fc5ca28910e.html


gammie
by on May. 14, 2013 at 9:39 AM


We need Polictions that will make thing better not worse!! 

Hillary is the worse anytime, letting Americans die makes her dangerous !!!

Quoting NWP:

Why not? I voted for Hillary in the 2008 primary. If McCain had chosen Leiberman over Palin I might have voted for him in the general election. We need to move past the partisan BS. A split ticket could be just what we need.

Quoting 12hellokitty:




Quoting NWP:

Hillary/Christie 2016!



eye rolling



tweety101149
by Platinum Member on May. 14, 2013 at 6:54 PM

 


Quoting yourspecialkid:

 

Quoting tweety101149:

 Hmm, you mean a president that cares about people in the lower income brackets instead of just the 1%.  He may not be perfect..., but is certainly better than than the last president'.  

Quoting yourspecialkid:

 I think it is absurd.  I wouldn't care if the President required a special lift to get on AF1 if he was a good president that actually CARED about the people that hired him.

 

 

 

 No, I am talking about a president with actual solutions intead of a whiny blame of someone else.

So sorry to hear about your 99% issues though.  You should move to a healthy red state like Wyoming....then you can be part of the 53%...you know, the portion of us that pays or everyone else.

 

Already am living in what is considered in a "Red" state.  Would just love to "Pink" slip Rick Scott.  And can't stomach Marc Rubio either.  Not exactly found of "Blue" states either.  Now a purple state I would consider, but have no family there.  Hubby's mom is quite ill, so we need to be in Hurricanville and be close to her.  BTW, how is the medicare/social security and cost of living up in Wyoming?  I in the golden ages ya know.

butterfly on headlynda  




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