Yo, Gov. Christie: Don't have a cow

Gov. Christie has a problem with his weight - and his demeanor. (Associated Press)
Gov. Christie has a problem with his weight - and his demeanor. (Associated Press)
Posted: February 15, 2013

PRESUMABLY, you've heard that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is making headlines again - this time, for his ample waistline. Or rather for the health risks associated with it.

Last week, a former White House physician who was discussing Christie's political future said she was concerned that his weight, combined with the excruciating stress of the presidency, could be fatal.

Dr. Connie Mariano told CNN she'd like to see Christie run for president in 2016, but said, "I'm worried about this man dying in office."

"He is at risk of a heart attack at that size. He could have sleep apnea, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes," she said. "And coming to the White House, which is a pressure cooker and there is more stress involved, long hours, lots of travel, which makes those things worse unless they were healthier."

That's grim, if realistic, speculation.

I must admit, though, I'm gratified to be talking about a male politician's physical attributes, rather than Michelle Obama's butt or bangs, or Hillary Clinton's hair or ankles.

And frankly, I'm more repulsed by what comes out of Christie's mouth than how much he puts in it.

When a reporter asked Christie about Mariano's comments, for instance, he succinctly said she should "shut up."

"This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV," Christie said in a cascade of demeaning comments about Mariano. "If she wants to . . . examine me and review my medical history, I'll have a conversation with her about that. Until that time, she should shut up."

Christie said his children watched the CNN show and his 12-year-old asked him, "Dad, are you going to die?"

I appreciate Christie's sensitivity about his family.

But what about setting an example of civility for his children? What about teaching them to respect other people? What about modeling anger control? What about reflecting the dignity that should accompany the privilege of holding public office?

This isn't the first time Christie's vulgarity has emerged. He called a reporter who asked him an off-topic question an "idiot." He lashed out at a citizen at a town-hall meeting and called him an idiot, too. He famously told a public-school teacher who was complaining about her diminishing wage that "you don't have to do it." When another citizen who complained about cuts in the education budget asked him about sending his children to private school, he blurted, "It's none of your business."

It concerns me that this kind of rude bullying is accepted as just another part of Christie's disarming candor. Christie is admired as a straight-talking pol who doesn't adhere to talking points and isn't timid about veering from the party line. But his tendency to be crude and insulting when he's confronted shouldn't be mythologized and tolerated as part of his charm. We complain that the public discourse has disintegrated into vulgarity; Christie's demeanor reinforces that trend.

Not to mention that the focus on his weight isn't as irrelevant and intrusive as the chatter about Michelle Obama's so-called big butt or Hillary Clinton's random hairstyles. This is about health, not looks. This isn't a personal attack about a frivolous issue. And anyone who's considered a contender for the White House should expect it to be a legitimate topic of conversation.

Indeed, Christie would have been far more sympathetic if he'd responded to Mariano's comments by acknowledging that, while he makes light of his weight - as he did when he pulled a doughnut out of his pocket on the Letterman show - he's actually concerned, too, as he has previously admitted, and as well he should be.

Like many of us, Christie admits to trying and failing repeatedly to lose weight and keep it off. I doubt that anyone faults him for that. Given the obesity statistics in this country, most of us probably identify to some extent with his struggle. Our bodies are designed to prevent us from starving and they go into survival mode when we start to lose pounds - slowing our metabolism and resisting our efforts to slim down.

So Christie legitimately may be unable to control his weight, but he certainly ought to learn to shut up.

Jill Porter is a former columnist for the Daily News.

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