It’s an uncomfortable question, which means that it’s right in Barbara Walters’ wheelhouse. As she put it to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
For those who can’t watch video, here’s how the exchange goes:
WALTERS: “There are people who say that you couldn’t be president because you are so heavy. What do you say to that?”
CHRISTIE: “It’s ridiculous. I mean, that’s ridiculous. I think people have watched me for a number of weeks in Hurricane Sandy doing 18-hour days, so I don’t really think that would be a problem.”
I’m not so sure that’s true. As Christie acknowledged to Walters, he isn’t merely overweight, he’s seriously overweight. That struck home during last night’s broadcast of the Hurricane Sandy charity concert in New York, which Christie attended. When the camera panned to Christie, standing in a crowd surrounded by other people, the size differential between the governor and those around him was startling.
Some have raised the question of whether Christie’s weight reflects a character flaw or lack of personal discipline, but I’m with the governor on that one: “It’s ridiculous.” That alleged “lack of discipline” doesn’t show up in other aspects of his life, and as Christie aptly noted, it doesn’t affect his work ethic.
It does, however, raise significant health issues. If you look at how George W. Bush visibly aged over his eight-year presidency, and how Barack Obama has aged, the toll taken by the job and the campaigning becomes pretty clear. And unlike Christie, both Bush and Obama are pretty serious about staying in good physical shape. It’s perfectly legitimate, even necessary, to consider health when electing a president, and although Christie has never revealed his actual weight, it’s pretty clear that he would fall in the far right category in the chart below:
There’s also the image issue. Rationally speaking, you cannot judge a person’s character or intelligence by his or her weight or physical attractiveness, but the truth is that we do it all the time, without even thinking about it.
As researchers Lucy Watson and Lucy Johnston write in summarizing scientific studies into the question:
“Attractive people are perceived to be happier, more sociable and more successful than unattractive individuals. Attractive, as compared to unattractive, individuals are judged more highly on academic tasks, are treated more generously when grades are assigned and receive more support. Furthermore, physical attractiveness has been found to affect juror decisions, helping behavior, parents’ attitudes toward their own infants, psychological well-being of adults, status cues, social and professional competence evaluations, level of prestige of a given occupation and employment and job evaluations.”
Given that psychological reality, it’s no surprise that voters tend to gravitate to candidates who look presidential. And in his present physical condition, that is not a test that Christie passes.
– Jay Bookman