Verner column: Let’s think big on the presidency

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 8, 2011

I havenít paid much attention to the Republican presidential candidates at this point, Iíll confess, but Iím seriously disappointed that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declined to run.
I think the country needs a fat president, and Christie could certainly fill the ticket.
An obese president could be just the tonic to jolt us out of these lean, gloomy times.
Fat people tend to be jolly, or at least we think of them that way, and goodness knows we are a nation sorely in need of some jollity. These days, the mood of the body politic is as sour as a green persimmon, as disgruntled as a grizzly bear roused in the middle of hibernation by a Mitt Romney robocall. We are, in short, a people whose patience has worn as thin as Barack Obamaís sideways silhouette. This is the season of our discontent, and we are perpetually obsessed with dieting.
Maybe a fat president wouldnít change anything, but itís worth a try. Our last truly large chief executive, William Howard Taft, weighed in somewhere between 300 and 400 pounds (depending on dessert) and served from 1909-1913. Taft didnít merely exude gravitas; he generated his own gravitational field. I donít know whether his presidency was a particularly jolly time for our country, but since cell phones and automated call centers hadnít yet been invented, people were probably a lot less stressed than we are today. And while Taft is primarily remembered for once getting stuck in the White House bathtub, let us not forget that his tenure coincided with some notable advances in civilization, including the invention of instant coffee and Life Savers candy, as well as the bra and the zipper. Taft also had a visionary side: He was the first president to travel widely by motorcar ó which was no doubt a tremendous relief to the administrationís horses.
Itís not just rotund good humor that Christie might have brought to the White House. A fat president could be a living symbol of the return of flush times for which we all hunger. In an earlier era, corpulency was considered the physical counterpart of material wealth; richer people had richer diets, and they wore their waist-coated paunches and quivery jowls with pride. Rather than viewing portliness as a character defect, it was the jiggly sign of a well-stocked larder.
The scrawny scolds of the media and the medical lobby will have none of this, of course. In a dyspeptic commentary written before Christie rejected a presidential run, the Washington Postís Eugene Robinson grimly reminded us that ěobesity is a national epidemicî and it just wouldnít do to have a chief executive whose tonnage would place him on the upper end of the scale. ěChristieís problem with weight ceased being a private matter when he stepped into the public arena ó and itís not something you can fail to notice,î Robinson sniped. (Quick, give that man a milkshake.)
At Bloomberg News, Michael Kinsley put the obesity issue squarely on the table, declaring that Christie ě… cannot be president: He is just too fat.î
Really? Then letís try this on for size: ěWinston Churchhill cannot save Britain ó and perhaps Western Civilization ó against the onslaught of totalitarianism because he is just too fat.î (Churchill wasnít merely fat; he also smoked cigars, drank too much, indulged in profanity, reveled in risque humor and enjoyed lolling about in a dressing gown ó the political antecedent of Boy George.)
Is Angela Merkel ó obviously no stranger to the strudel pan ó unfit to be chancellor of Germany?
Was Idi Amin too fat to … OK, bad example, but you see my point.
With the exception of Bill Clinton, weíve had a run of presidents who were into lean body mass and physical fitness. Obama plays basketball and works out in the executive gym. George W. Bush liked to bike and jog. His father, Bush the elder, projected the image of a vigorous sportsman, captaining his sailboat and teeing off on the links. Further back, Ronald Reaganís favorite photo ops showed him engaging in manly activities at his California ranch.
And yet, with all these symbols of vigor and vitality in the White House, where has it gotten us? We have a surplus of obesity among the populace and chronic deficits in our budgets. The more our presidents work out, the faster the country seems to waste away.
Itís time we broadened our views on what constitutes a worthy presidential profile. Letís dare to think big, as in XXXX-large. Instead of hope, letís go for heft. In fact, what we should do is mount a write-in campaign for Christie, with corporate support from Krispy Kreme and Honey-Baked Hams.
I have just the campaign theme: ěChris Christie ó An oval guy for the Oval Office.î

Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post.