Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weighing Christie’s options

IF YOU’VE been wondering where the real Chris Christie was and what they’d done with him — witness his recent peace-making tour with President Obama, which required a hurricane on steroids to make both possible and necessary — you can relax now. The brittle, mercurial Republican governor of New Jersey is back in his old familiar form.

It took a nasty dressing down of a former White House physician who made recent comments about Christie’s sorest spot — his weight — to bring back the Chris Christie we remember. The governor’s still in the public eye as his state and others recover from Hurricane Sandy. A sitdown with Letterman and a cover story in Time Magazine, the last newsweekly standing, are keeping alive Republican hopes of his viability as a presidential contender in 2016.

But it’s time to say it plain: The White House doctor’s comments about his weight and his flinty, defensive reaction to them point to an issue that will follow him from now until 2016. And as his political star and his profile rise, Christie’s none-of-your-business shoutdowns won’t matter. If he seeks the presidency of the United States, he’d better get used to this. Or do something about it. His viability, the real kind, may depend on it.

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Last week, in an interview, Connie Mariano, the former White House physician to Bill Clinton and both Bushes, told CNN she feared that Christie’s weight may herald health problems such as diabetes and sleep apnea if left unchecked. “I'm worried he may have a heart attack. I'm worried he may have a stroke... It's almost a like a time bomb waiting to happen unless he addresses those issues before running for office.”

“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.”

In an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger, she said: “He can feel compassion, but he can also be a great example for people to conquer this. There are ways to do it. … And if he can overcome this disease, he deserves the White House... He’s a tough SOB. And all of us really like him because he’s refreshingly honest.”

Mariano would soon discover just how “refreshingly honest” Christie can be. On a tour of Sandy storm recovery efforts in Sea Girt, N.J., Christie called Mariano "just another hack who wants five minutes on TV. ... If she wants to get on a plane and come here to New Jersey and ask me if she wants to examine me and review my medical history, I will have a conversation with her about that," Christie said.

"Until that time she should shut up."

Not the governor’s smoothest move.

Bryan Monroe thinks so. “Governor, you might not want to dismiss her so quickly,” said Monroe, the editor of, and a former National Association of Black Journalists president, in a Friday piece on CNN’s Web site. “Yes, she has never examined you and maybe it's not her job to be pointing out the obvious: that morbidly obese men have a significantly higher chance of dying early than the population at large. But, still, she was probably doing you a favor. How do I know? Seven years ago, governor, I was you.”

Monroe went on to note how “at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 441 pounds, I was morbidly obese ...”

Joe Madison, talk-show host on SiriusXM radio, told Richard Prince’s Journal-isms blog on Friday: “It's not a political issue, it's a matter of health,” said Madison, who underwent his own battle with obesity a few years back. “Stress and being president of the United States do not mix. Stress and being overweight do not mix.”

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C HRISTIE, 50, is reportedly 5’11” tall. The ideal body mass index (BMI) for a man of his height and age is 25 or less. The ideal weight for a man of his height and age is 180 pounds or less, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.

If images from his recent appearances in public are any indication, a charitable crowd-sourced assessment in round numbers would put the governor’s weight at 300 pounds. Assuming that’s true, Christie’s BMI would be about 41.8. If his weight’s higher, say 350 pounds, Christie’s BMI checks in at an astronomical 48.8.

The decrease in life expectancy for obese people with a BMI between 40 and 45 is between 8 and 10 years according to a March 2009 report in The Lancet. “The progressive excess mortality above this range is due mainly to vascular disease and is probably largely causal,” The Lancet reported.

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Some in his party are willing to overlook the issue. “Are you looking for somebody who can run a marathon or somebody who can run a state?" said Republican strategist Rich Galen, to Reuters, foolishly, in 2011. It’s a false choice. The fact is, running a state, a presidential campaign, and certainly a presidency, is a marathon.

You occupy a public office in America subject to the surprises and velocities of modern life: the water-main break on Main Street; the 3 a.m. phone call at the White House, the nonstop visitations of towns and communities ravaged by a storm whose intensity nobody saw coming. It never stops, and at every level, from the mayor’s office to the Oval Office, preparedness is everything. And you’re ill-prepared to deal with the physical demands of seeking the presidency, much less getting the job, when you’re morbidly obese.

If Christie harbors a desire for a political career beyond the statehouse in Trenton, he needs to accept, and now, the fact that the higher up the political food chain you go in America, the more your public and private lives fuse. If he runs for the presidency, and sure as hell if he wins, that fact will be inescapable.

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THERE’S SOME indication that Christie gets it. CNN reported that, at a Tuesday meeting for Sandy victims in Union, N.J., Christie said getting in shape is something that’s very much in the in-box.

“Be assured there is a plan. Whether it's successful or not, you'll all be able to notice,” Christie said. “The idea that somehow, you know, I don't care about this – of course I care about it. And I am making the best effort I can.”

This, mind you, the day after he appeared on “The Late Show With David Letterman” and made a donut disappear.

All part of the plan, you see.

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The problem with Christie’s gradualist approach to his own weight loss is that it runs counter to the meme of Christie as hard charger, a man allergic to inaction, a governor whose underlying political dynamic is dynamism: Getting Things Done Now. With that as a fundamental aspect of his public persona, Christie can hardly retreat to accepting snail’s-pace progress when his career, and his life, are on the line.

The health of aspirants to high public office matters to the American people. And if you propose to seek the presidency of the United States as probably the largest candidate for the office since William Howard Taft, you need to be ready for the slings and arrows of outrageous citizens all too ready to get under your skin. A lot. You need to be prepared to understand how the demands of the presidency are distilled, at a breakneck and relentless pace, by the demands of the campaign.

Don’t like what the White House doctor said? Get used to it, governor. Or change what she’s talking about, for your own good and maybe that of the country you one day hope to lead.

Conoclast, sounding off Wednesday at the CNN Web site, put everything in sharp relief with a spot-on question we’d love to hear the governor respond to: “Until we see you get serious about your own affliction, how can we get serious about you?”

Image credits: Christie donut: © 2013 CBS/Worldwide Pants. Mariano: CNN. 

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