Fat used to be an attribute of a successful man, suggesting power, status, and fine dining—the proverbial fat cat. A few generations ago, Teddy Kennedy would not have been an anomaly on the Senate floor. But then politics became a subset of the media business. A fat politician became as much of a non-starter as a fat anchorman.
It is probably more difficult to be a fat politician than it is to be a promiscuous one. You can’t get more politically incorrect than to be fat stuff.
This has now become an open issue in the campaign for governor in New Jersey. Christopher J. Christie
, the Republican candidate, isn’t just carrying an extra 60 pounds; he’s in there with an extra 200 or so. Even in a vastly overweight nation, he sticks out. He’s a riveting sight, an issue of engineering, a walking (barely walking) public policy problem, burdening the health care system and anyone with the misfortune to be seated next to him on an airplane.
There have been other recent political porkers, but really not too many. In New York, there is Jerry Nadler, a whale whose media consultants once tried to film him playing baseball for a campaign ad, but it turned out to be too horrifying to see him run. Nadler finally got his stomach stapled. In Israel, before the stroke that left him a vegetable, there was Ariel Sharon. His monster size (one of those particularly odd shapes, thin at the top, billowing out at the bottom) seemed to reflect the general Israeli point of view: They just didn’t care what anyone thinks of them; even in a media conscious world, they’ll continue to do whatever they wanted to do. Fat, in this context, wasn’t weakness, it was arrogance.
(Christopher Christie, AP Photo)
But, as a rule, politicians who must continually watch themselves on television do not want to see themselves as morbidly obese people any more than anyone else does. They can’t take their own exposure. The downside of this self-consciousness is pretty evident, I suppose: ever more vanity in public office, ever more superficial characters running the show. Perhaps we would be better served by public servants too embarrassed to go on television. Or, if voters had to look at fat politicians all the time, maybe they’d be chastened and deal with their own weight problems.
Still, the world is as it is. A fat politician—the few who are left—is someone who is, pretty certainly, conflicted about his job. A fat politician doesn’t really want you to vote for him. A fat politician is a true contrarian and relative misanthrope—not exactly a winning sort of character in the pleasing people business.
Fat is a fat joke.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
Politicians used to be fat, and voters used to be thin. This has been turned on its head: Now a fat politician is an unusual bird, while the majority of voters are corpulent beasts.