New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's reelection by an overwhelming margin has revived the question of whether he is too fat to be president. This is a stupid question. Being heavy doesn't make you a bad person, or a bad president, and being fit doesn't make you a popular one, as George W. Bush can attest. The Atlantic Wire compared presidential BMIs to their historical rankings, and found that physical fitness doesn't tell you much about presidential fitness.
Since Christie won such a huge victory on Tuesday night, it's time to knock him down a peg, in the most obvious and juvenile way possible. Time turned its cover into one big fat joke. The New York Times reported that he's fat, but getting less fat by the day. Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted, "Ever see a large man shot from a canon?" Politico argued that "nearly nine months after his highly-publicized lap-band surgery, a lingering question about Christie’s girth hovers just below the surface of the growing buzz surrounding his 2016 prospects." MSNBC's Chris Matthews wins for the most tasteless joke in his Thursday broadcast, noted Politico's Dylan Byers:
"Two days after Election Day, Chris Christie has crushed his opponent," Tom McGrath, the editor of Philadelphia Magazine asked Matthews. "Is he gonna be the Republican..."
"The one I feel for is his wife," Matthews interrupted.
"Why's that?" McGrath asked.
"Did you just say, 'crush?' I mean, use your imagination," Matthews said.
Har har har.
Frankly, there's something creepy about the fixation on the bodies of presidents as if they're living gods. As The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik wrote recently of the many books about JFK's assassination, "And so the obsession with his body, that shining head, recalling the seventeenth-century French court watching the King sleep and rise and defecate, leads in the end to the grisly conspiracy-theory compulsion to review every square inch of his autopsied body." Note the bizarrely worshipful tone of this August 2002 USA Today story about George W. Bush's body:
President Bush, a 56-year-old fitness fanatic, is so competitive that his excellent health report last year evidently wasn't good enough. Bush, whose condition ranked him in the top 2% for men older than 45 last year, made it to the top 1% this year...
In fact, Bush's doctors put his aerobic capacity and cardiovascular fitness in the top 5% for a man 20 years his junior. An "unbelievable" physical condition, said Kenneth Cooper, founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas and one of the examining doctors.
Aides banned long camera lenses during President Obama's 2010 vacation in Hawaii, prompting The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg to warn: "All you folks who wanted shirtless pictures of the president: Forget it." In 2012, Mitt Romney's good health was meticulously documented, running mate Paul Ryan's trendy workout routine was dissected. The Atlantic Wire noted how thin Obama got during the 2012 campaign.
But here's the deal: There is zero correlation between size and performance. None. We dug up two data points, each presidents' body-mass index (roughly the proportion of his weight to height), and his aggregated historical ranking. (Data sources are listed below.) Then we graphed them. The higher the president's bubble, the higher his body-mass index, and the more heavy-set he was. Historical evaluation of his presidency goes from best at left (Lincoln) to worst at right (Harding).
In case it's not obvious from the chart, we added a trend line (red) in Excel, as at right. It is almost perfectly flat, because weight and job performance do not correlate. As rating drops, it is not the case that BMI increases or decreases. It it unlinked.
Which: Of course. Obviously. And even the people quoted above would almost certainly state without hesitation that the two aren't linked. Usually, fat jokes are levied with the justification that a heavier candidate would face bias from voters. Making it a self-fulfilling prophecy: pundits are too immature to evaluate a candidate without snarking about his weight, and therefore, they assume, voters will feel the same way.
Luckily, voters aren't all that immature — as New Jersey proved on Tuesday.