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A Slim Risk

May 20, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 34 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook notes, without editorial comment, that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey seems to have undergone a laparoscopic surgical procedure last February to reduce his stomach’s capacity. The object of the operation is obvious—weight loss—but there seems to be some debate about why the governor chose to go under the knife, and whether he should have immediately informed the public when it took place. 

Chris Christie

Landov

On that latter question, The Scrapbook leans toward full disclosure. Governor Christie, in his characteristic way, dismissed such reasoning recently with a blunt none-of-your-business answer to reporters’ questions. We can sympathize with the governor’s desire to protect his privacy, and suspect a certain amount of embarrassment comes into play as well. But for good or ill, we live in an age when the health of important public officials is the people’s business. Up to a point: There is no need for the public to be informed about minute details, or kept abreast of a politician’s bout with the flu or seasonal allergies. But surgery of almost any kind is serious business, and the health of New Jersey’s governor is of practical concern to the citizens of New Jersey.

So what about those of us not registered to vote in New Jersey? There seems to be near-universal agreement that Governor Christie’s operation means that he intends to lose weight, aspires to grow slimmer and trimmer in the next year or two—and so must be planning to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. Well, maybe. But such speculation puts Christie in an obvious quandary. If he follows the great American tradition of pretending that the office seeks the man, and not the other way around, then he must insist that he is focused exclusively on serving as governor, and that running for president is the furthest thing from his mind. In which case, his insistence that he underwent the lap-band surgery exclusively for health reasons is politically astute.

In that sense, we commend the governor for his courage. Chris Christie’s political career as a Republican in heavily Democratic New Jersey has been blighted, to some minor degree, by malicious talk about his weight. Ex-governor Jon Corzine’s campaign, for example, used to say things about Christie’s girth which, if directed at his race or sexual orientation, would be regarded as bigotry. But given a choice between the portly-but-incorruptible Christie and a buff-but-sleazy Corzine, New Jersey voters wisely chose the bigger man. 

Nor is it entirely clear that being overweight is a liability in politics. Many plus-sized figures in American history—Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Wendell Willkie—are remembered with affection; and Bill Clinton’s gaunt appearance since cardiac surgery tends to crowd out memories of the pudgy Bill Clinton who was twice elected president. Some surveys even suggest that being overweight is a slight advantage in a political contest, at least for men. 

Which brings us to an undramatic conclusion: that Governor Christie was undoubtedly correct when he told reporters (and anybody else listening) that he underwent lap-band surgery for the sake of his family and his long-term health. This has the virtue of being, simultaneously, sensible and true. And it doesn’t exclude the possibility of a sylph-like Christie—if such a creature is imaginable—looking ahead.

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