Revenge of the Girthers
David Broder asks an important question in the Washington Post which should cause us all to ask how we evaluate political “figures” on their own merits. Call it, if you will, a result of the law of unintended consequences falling out from the current health care debate. As we focus on exactly how much health care money is spent on treating the negative consequences of obesity (along with whether or not we have a moral imperative to tax soft drinks) this battle seems to be giving cover to those who would tar the campaigns of political aspirants because of their weight. Are we now so obsessed with the Hollyweird version of what is an acceptable body shape that we will judge candidates on what goes into their mouths rather than what comes out of them?
If you believe, as I do, that the beautiful people already have enough of an advantage in this age of television politics and cable trivia, then the last thing we need is a wave of ads highlighting the fact that others are really ugly.
I worry about the many Senate and House incumbents in both parties who have plumped up since they came to Washington. Lobbyists can no longer buy members lunches or dinners, but there still are notable trenchermen among them — including some prominent men and women who always try to be photographed with their coats buttoned.
Broder is speaking specifically of the nasty advertising war going on in the New Jersey governor’s race, where a rather portly Chris Christie is currently threatening to unseat the slim, trim, marathon running Jon Corzine who has presided over the Garden State’s continued slide into financial ruin. Television spots show Christie in extreme slow motion as he gets out of a car and his rather generous mid-section wobbles about like jello. While elected officials can’t help but be seen as role models to a certain extent, is this how we want to judge those who will run for office or how we will battle opponents?
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this particular head of the hydra raised up this year. When Barack Obama selected Dr. Regina Benjamin for Surgeon General, critics were quick to point out her weight. Granted, her position is specific to medical issues and obesity is a valid concern, but the speed limit set by her own metabolism shouldn’t inform us about her intellect and the ability to do her job.
Of course, we’ve tended toward the “beautiful people,” as Broder puts it, for quite a while now as much as we don’t want to admit it. When pictures began emerging during the last campaign of a shirtless Obama climbing out of the surf in Hawaii, displaying a surprisingly fit six pack and well toned muscles, do any of you think that really hurt his chances? He was a guy with a killer, fade-away jump shot up against a man in his seventies with a body battling the ravages of time and the results of the cruelty of his Vietnamese captors. We would be foolish to think that this comparison in optics didn’t play into the nation’s impressions of the two men.
But the point is, the campaigns studiously avoided making those comparisons in the open. There were no advertisements from Team Obama about how people shouldn’t vote for the stooped over crippled old man. (Though some of his minions took every opportunity to call McCain “spry” as often as possible.) The treatment of Dr. Benjamin and the advertisements running against Christie are examples of a new, lowest common denominator. If you tend toward the plump side of the scale, don’t run for office. We’ll treat you just like the mean kids did on the playground back in grade school.
And this is exactly where we are headed in upcoming campaigns… even further into grade school tactics and childish taunting. Art continues to imitate life as the Hollywood ideal of beauty translates somehow into qualifications for leadership in government. And hey… who wouldn’t want Britney Speares running the country?