Everyone loves Chris Christie. It's as if there's some sort of spell that has succeeded in melting the hearts of even the most hardened Democrats, causing them to admit that the Republican governor of New Jersey is actually really cute. This is despite the fact that, at the moment, he's the hottest possible contender for the Republican candidacy in the 2016 presidential election. A month ago, Bruce Springsteen, Christie's favorite singer, caved in to the pressure and admitted that that was it – they were officially friends. He was later joined by Steven Spielberg, who said that for him, Christie was a hero, no less.
What transforms the keynote speaker of the Republican National Convention into someone so endeared to the Democrats? When Oprah Winfrey hosted him on her show a year ago, she mentioned that Christie had been called the Tony Soprano of politics, hinting at the dissonance of his charm, which turns his natural opponents into those who love him and seek his company – in contrast to their usual political instincts. But Winfrey, a popular commentator on human nature, also didn't manage to figure out why everyone's so fond of him: Is it because his name sounds like a character from an Aaron Sorkin series, the praise he heaped upon Obama's reaction to Hurricane Sandy, or his warm and direct personality? I'm not sure I can provide a complete, reasoned answer, but I'm guessing that his weight also plays no small part in the matter.
In the age of physically fit presidents, it's not necessarily a bad thing to tip the scales with a heavyweight contender. The New York Times created a chart showing the presidential physiques of the last century, and found that only five presidents weighed more than 200 pounds (91 kilos): Bill Clinton before his vegan diet; Lyndon B. Johnson, who was also very tall; Warren Harding, who died during his tenure; Teddy Roosevelt, who was one of the shortest presidents; and William H. Taft, the fattest of them all, weighing in at 332 pounds, who had an oversized bath tub installed in his honor at the White House.
The bottom line is clear: leaders with a healthy BMI are more successful. But maybe the public are growing weary of this catwalk parade. After Americans have seen their president's nipples and been impressed by their six-packs, it could be that the time has come for a more fatherly-looking leader. It's not that a slim, good-looking president isn't easy on the eye, but there is something slightly intimidating about the excess of self-control displayed by the leaders of the new generation. They studied at the right universities, birdied the right holes, and married the right women (who made them replace cigarettes with organic zucchini). And if I was their mother, I'd probably be proud of them. But I'm not. And that's why I find their monumental need to maintain control slightly disconcerting.
As someone who was raised on the ethos of the "bulldozer," also known as Ariel Sharon, I know how to appreciate the benefits of an obvious appetite. Someone who sees a plate piled with pastries on the meeting table and loses concentration. An uncontrollable appetite that fails to hide its desire. The desire for a 600 gram rib-eye steak, like the desire for power. It may not be very aesthetic, and it is certainly far from being respectable or bourgeois, but in contrast to hidden desires, it at least announces its existence openly and doesn’t hide behind a veneer of righteousness. Because none of these leaders have reached their positions thanks to their fragile egos or monastic ambitions for tikkun olam. So if the appetite for power is an essential attribute for a leader's resume, I prefer him to display it prominently. To remind me why he's here.
And it's not only that. In contrast to the excess weight of Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak that comes across like an aggressive craving, Christie's fat, like that of Ariel Sharon, also has something fragile about it. Christie is so fat that he becomes vulnerable. When trying to imagine the menu that brought him to this state, the image that comes to mind isn't of an animal charging through a crowd toward a piece of meat, but of someone who smuggles in snacks and devours them alone at 2am.
It is actually this meeting point between appetite and vulnerability that endears him to so many Democrats. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine the Republicans being so forgiving – this, after all, is the same party that chose a presidential candidate whose family makes Ken and Barbie look human. The party that believes people's weaknesses are reason for punishment. Therefore, it would be fair to doubt that Christie's friends in the Republican Party will appreciate the softness he conveys. Softness in the best sense of the word.
And after all this, the question remains whether Americans will also help elect him for president. Many years ago, in the mayoral race in Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert defeated the popular head of the city Teddy Kollek with the slogan: "We love you Teddy, but we're voting for Olmert." This is what may also happen to Christie in the moment of truth, when all the sympathy he arouses encounters the profound fear of excess weight in American society.
When he was asked recently by Barbara Walters if he could be elected as president weighing as much as he does, Christie immediately explained that it didn’t affect his work rate. In fact, after Hurricane Sandy he was running around the streets of New Jersey for 18 hours a day. But this answer feigned ignorance – as if the Americans were interested in his resilience, rather than his circumference. But the debate over his health is just political correctness: Americans talk about health issues so that they don't have to admit that, for most of them, it's an aesthetic issue. When wondering whether Christie could be elected president, the question at hand is whether Americans would agree to be represented by him. Because a black president is nice, but a fat one?
Vered Kellner has worked as a journalist in Israel for 17 years. She recently moved with her family from Tel Aviv to New York.
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