Did you notice that Chris Christie is fat? Time did! The magazine's cover story on the New Jersey governor, who was just reelected by a huge margin and who has obvious presidential ambitions, is titled, "The Elephant in the Room." Get it? In case you didn't, the cover features an Alfred Hitchcock-style silhouette of Christie, with his thick neck and jowl and body sloping outward toward his round stomach. The Atlantic Wire speculated in February that if Christie were a woman, the mainstream media would feel less free to make such obvious fat jokes. (Christie had eaten a donut on Letterman, and it was a big deal.) Female politicians are judged more harshly by what they look like. But it's taboo to be this explicit about it. Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Michele Bachmann — they've all been mocked for their appearance. But then the people who make those jokes are shamed by everyone else.
When Christie was floated as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney, some columnists argued his weight disqualified him for the office — his big belly, they argued, symbolized a lack of self control in his own life that would be translated into a lack of control of the world's greatest country. An ugly undercurrent to those columns was class snobbery — poor people are fat, and rich people think that's gross. Michael Kinsley wrote that Christie's fat was "a too-perfect symbol of our country at the moment, with appetites out of control and discipline near zilch." Eugene Robinson said simply, "I’d just like to offer him a bit of unsolicited, nonpartisan, sincere advice: Eat a salad and take a walk." And the class thing is the subtext to Time's Christie coverage. "He doesn't claim to be an ideas man or a visionary. He's a workhorse with a temper and a tongue, the guy who loves his mother and gets it done," Michael Scherer writes. "The question now is whether his brassy act will play as well in Nashua and Sioux City as it does in Nutley and Asbury Park," Joe Scarborough says.
Mitt Romney, man of the people, was also fixated on Christie's weight, as reported in the new 2012 campaign book Double Down, an excerpt of which is in this issue of Time.
Mitt also cared about fitness and was prone to poke fun at those who didn’t. (“Oh, there’s your date for tonight,” he would say to male members of his traveling crew when they spied a chunky lady on the street.) Romney marveled at Christie’s girth, his difficulties in making his way down the narrow aisle of the campaign bus. Watching a video of Christie without his suit jacket on, Romney cackled to his aides, “Guys! Look at that!”
And, surprise, surprise, the class thing comes up again. "The vetters were stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record," Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write. Garish! Christie spent lots of money at fancy hotels.
There's plenty to mock about Chris Christie. He made his name yelling at teachers. He made an oral sex joke at a heckler on stage with robot Mitt Romney! He deserves better mockery than a tired "eat a salad" joke.