A couple nights ago Gov. Chris Christie spoke at the Republican National Convention. The next day two people I know, who happen to work in and around politics, brought up his speech to me.
Their first observations weren't on policy or the substance of his speech. No. Their very first statements were on Christie's weight.
"Did anyone watch that fatty-fat obese blob at the RNC last night?" and "God, Chris Christie is so disgusting."
Seriously? Is that what our political discourse has come to these days? We're so partisan we can't have an intelligent conversation about policy, but instead resort to middle school-like name calling. It is absolutely no wonder so many eligible voters are completely jaded, fed-up, and generally underwhelmed with either party.
I pointed out to one of the individuals that both Bill Clinton and Al Gore have both been targeted by people on the opposing party (and in the media) about their weight in the past, and that it was unfair for her to vilify Christie for his weight while giving them a pass.
"Well that was different," she said. "They were just overweight not fat."
She used the word "fat" as if it were a pejorative. That merely saying the word would cause herself to put on pounds. Why on earth does that superficial distinction make a difference? And may I add this woman is not any of these people's doctors, so how she knew one was "fat" and the other was "just overweight," I'll never know. Are we really that divided that if you disagree with my views you are disgusting in every way, shape and form, but if you agree with me I can overlook how "fat" or "ugly" or "gross" you may be?
This offends me, and should offend you, on a couple different levels. First, personally, I have quite a few loved ones who have struggled with their weight (and I myself have gained weight and struggled to take it off). This doesn't make them (or me) evil or disgusting, regardless of their political views, and I would be heartbroken if someone vilified these amazing friends and family members solely for how many inches their waist is. And I think I'd have a very hard time finding someone in this country who hasn't had a friend or family member deal with weight issues.
Secondly, as a political wonk, I hate to see the state of our discourse stooping to this level. What Christie or any other politician on either side of the aisle has to say on the direction of our country is what we should be talking about. Their weight or clothing or hairstyle is not. (Unless that hairstyle costs $500 -- then I think we can all agree it is fair game.)
Christie's speech has been branded as a "flop" by a Politico piece. Is that not worth talking about? Is it not worth talking about the length of time it took him to first mention Mitt Romney (something like 16 minutes)? Shouldn't we be talking about what he said in regards to Medicare instead of what he has been eating?
I'm a Democrat and this focus on his weight is doing absolutely nothing to further our cause and platform politically and instead just turns the average American (who probably also happens to be overweight) completely and totally off from the whole process.
All of this makes me think of the outrage last week after an episode of Project Runway, when designer Ven Budhu, himself not exactly svelt, repeatedly berrated a woman who happened to not be "normal runway size" (she has said she is a size 10, Budhu has said she is a 14). She represented an average woman deserving of a makeover and was treated cruelly both to her face and behind her back by the designer. The next day the internet showed their overwhelming support to her and all she had to endure. Where is that when it comes to Christie? Why is is acceptable to call him names? Is it because he's male? Is it because he's not a necessarily a sympathetic figure?
There shouldn't be a caveat for what bullying or taunting is acceptable. Regardless of if you're famous or not, a Republican or a Democrat, young or old, male or female, bullying shouldn't be part of the equation. We should be teaching our children that no bullying is acceptable, and to belittle someone because of their size or appearance or sexual orientation or whatever makes them "different" shouldn't be tolerated in any circumstance. Kids who have weight struggles and have ambitions to be president or be an actor shouldn't have to see adults getting away with attacking Christie with bad puns and rude remarks. What kind of message does that send?
Sure, we know it is healthier to be thin, and yes, people should be concerned about their weight and health, and of course there is room for education and awareness (something it seems Christie has talked about candidly in recent interviews). That doesn't mean to have the discussion we need to start by name calling. That gets us nowhere.
A lot of journalists and adults should be ashamed of themselves for the "clever" headlines and comments about Christie's weight. I guess they must not know what it was like to ever be different growing up and know just how badly those kind of words can hurt.