I'm not a fan of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, although I respected his bipartisan stewardship during Hurricane Sandy. But I've defended him, on "NOW With Alex Wagner," to offer one example, from charges that his weight disqualifies him from being president. Obesity is first and foremost a health matter, even if scolds try to make it a matter of discipline. There's also a huge class bias in our preference for thinness today. Obviously Christie isn't someone who can't afford healthy food or to get the weight loss help he needs, at this point in his life anyway. But a lot of working- and middle-class people can probably identify with his inability to lose weight and keep it off. Certainly Bill Clinton's struggles with his own size were part of what endeared him to common folks. It also set him up for serious heart disease in his 60s.
Uh-oh, but I shouldn't have mentioned health issues related to being overweight, because we know that sets Christie off -- particularly, it seems, when an uppity lady brings it up. Everyone's heard about the governor's heartwarming star-turn with David Letterman, despite Letterman's repeated and sometimes cruel jokes about his weight. Now we're hearing about the way he chewed up former White House doctor Connie Mariano, a Republican and a fan, for warmly expressing concern about his weight, calling her a "hack" and telling her to "shut up."
The mellow Chris Christie showed up Monday night and munched on a jelly doughnut, cracking up the crowd. But he also talked about his health. "I'm basically the healthiest fat guy you've ever seen in your life," he told Letterman, revealing that recent medical tests show his blood sugar and cholesterol levels are normal.
The next day, he continued to open up about his weight. "If you talked to anybody who has struggled with their weight, what they would tell you is `every week, every month, every year, there's a plan,'" Christie told reporters on Tuesday. "The idea that somehow I don't care about this, of course I care about it, and I'm making the best effort I can." He acknowledged on and off dieting over the next 30 years -- "Sometimes I'm successful, and other times I'm not," he said -- and confessed "there is a plan" for him to focus on his weight once again. "Whether it's successful or not," he said, "you'll all be able to notice."
Ah, the sensitive new age Chris Christie, opening up about his pain and suffering. He was less warm and cuddly when Barbara Walters asked him in December whether he was too fat to be president. "That's ridiculous," he snapped.
But the new Christie was only with us for a day it seemed. Also Tuesday, former White House doctor Connie Mariano, who served Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- and who happens to be a Republican -- told CNN that Christie's weight is a "time bomb" and that she was rooting for him to take it off. "I'm a Republican. I like Chris Christie. I want him to run. I just want him to lose weight," Mariano said. "I'm a physician more than I'm a Democrat or Republican. And I'm worried about this man dying in office." She talked about helping Clinton lose 30 pounds while in office and said there was hope for Christie, too.
"If he can overcome this disease, he deserves the White House," she told the Newark Star-Ledger. "He’s a tough SOB. And all of us really like him because he’s refreshingly honest. He’s no BS-er. … I want him to lose weight so he can win the office."
So how did Christie respond? Did he ask her for some advice, or at least thank her (even if he privately resented her kibbitzing)?
No, he called her a "hack" who knows nothing about his health. "“This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV,” he fumed, adding, "She should shut up." The tirade went on for a minute and a half.
That's why he'll never be President Christie, whether he loses or gains 100 pounds. The funny, shoot-from-the-lip Christie is one thing; the angry, abusive Christie is quite another. I can understand Christie privately resenting Mariano's public advice; he said his kids were concerned about it. But national public figures have to get used to much rougher treatment than their kids seeing someone who says she's a fan expressing concern about his health.
There are slide shows featuring Christie either losing his temper or gratuitously insulting constituents or reporters -- just Google "angry Chris Christie." I particularly enjoyed the time he was vacationing at the Jersey Shore and someone apparently made a "snide remark" about his education policy -- and Christie almost slugged him. "You’re a real big shot," Christie yelled, walking toward the guy. "You’re a real big shot shooting your mouth off ... Keep walking away. Really good. Keep walking," he shouted, as he was physically guided away by a bodyguard. Or the time he called a reporter "stupid" and an "idiot" for asking if he was going to be addressing the Legislature as announced.
There's plenty to like about Christie, if you're a Republican. He works hard. He's reasonably smart. He's not a Tea Party lunatic. But his anger and lack of self-control will be his undoing. Ironically, for a guy who's famous for his size, his biggest problem is being thin-skinned.