N.J. Gov. Corzine breaks out the lard card

8th October 2009

N.J. Gov. Corzine breaks out the lard card

John Corzine - Chris Christie

I got an email a couple weeks ago from New York Times reporter David Halbfinger looking to do a story on the weighty political race raging between New Jersey Gov. John Corzine and Republican challenger Christopher Christie.  Because I am a journalist myself, I seldom speak on the record anymore, but I did talk with David for a good half-hour to help provide him with some context and other similar examples (the most recent of which are the fat-attacks on Surgeon General-elect Regina Benjamin and SCOTUS nominee Sandra Sotomayor).  The Times printed his story yesterday and I’m glad to see that it not only seems critical of Corzine’s jabs at Christie’s weight, but also failed to mention the Big Bad Obesity Epidemic or question Christie’s physical ability to assume office.

The story, in a nutshell, is this: Corzine, a Democrat, maintains a 40 percent approval rating in a blue state.  These numbers, combined with the state’s high tax rate, stifling property taxes and record high unemployment promised a climate ripe for a GOP takeover.  The race turned ugly long ago, but now Corvine is calling attention to Christie’s weight in not-so-subtle ways.  A television ad for Corvine shows Christie stepping out of an S.U.V. in extreme slow motion so that his extra girth also moves, just as slowly, while a narrator snidely intones that Christie “threw his weight around” to avoid getting traffic tickets.  Other commercials and online videos (deliberately?) feature unattractive images of Christie, sometimes shot from the side or backside, highlighting his corpulence, jowls and double chin.  Meanwhile Corzine has been conspicuously running in 5- and 10-kilometer races almost every weekend, as Halbfinger suggests, “underscoring his athleticism and readiness for the physical demands of another term — and raising doubts about Mr. Christie’s.”

Corvine denies the fat-baiting, but even his fellow cronies are now questioning the effectiveness of playing the fat card.

“There’s no subtlety there,” said Bill Baroni, a Republican state senator from Hamilton who lost 130 pounds starting 15 years ago. “That’s not a randomly chosen phrase. It’s purposeful. And it’s offensive.”

Mr. Baroni said that Mr. Corzine risked a backlash from the “tens of thousands” of New Jerseyans who struggle with their weight. “It is a lifetime battle,” he said. “And it’s made harder when people that you expect better from make fun of you.”

Christie is brushing off the jabs as “silly,” but as Halbfinger notes, there are signs that they may be working among voters in one of the leanest states in the union.  In a recent survey conducted by Monmouth University, voters were asked to say the first thing to came to mind about Christie.  “Fat” was a frequent response, said poll director Patrick Murray, who attributed the results to the Corvine ads.   Murry said that he believed that the ads were intended to convey a “sublimial message” that Christie is reckless with his health, and ergo, might be reckless in other ways.

(Not mentioned in the Times’ story is the near visceral degree of fat hatred harbored by many a voter who don’t care a fig about health.  A now removed Craig’s List posting titled “Why I Will NOT Vote for Chris Christie” vehemently opines:  “More money expended by us taxpayers because he is fat! I just don’t like fat people and Chris Christie is fat! ….hide the M&M’s.”  Comments on Daily Kos range from “What a fat piece of garbage,” to “I can’t stand fat azz pompus arrogant pieces of shet like this guy.”   Over at CNN’s Political Ticker, you can find such gems as “Look at that fat Republican. The overfed look should be enough to dissuade voters. Greedy Pig…,” and “Chris Christie a criminal, fat pig.”)

The ads also seem to be taking their toll on Christie himself, a yo-yo dieter who has long struggled with his size.  Christie said that he’s become “numb” to fat jokes after so long and other than rightly insisting that his size has nothing to do with his being governor, he refuses to discuss his weight, even jokingly.  But while Christie declined to give his exact weight, saying that it’s not “anybody else’s business,” he did mention that he has lost 25 pounds since June by working with a personal trainer three times a week.  As Halbfinger notes, there’s not much else he can say.

Although significantly overweight politicians are increasingly rare these days, especially at the national level, several governors have very publicly tried to shed pounds, often unsuccessfully. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has told of trying the Atkins and liquid diets to little avail. Sonny Perdue of Georgia weighed nearly 230 pounds when he threw away a Snickers bar to start dieting in 2003. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania has lost 48 pounds, but still carries 220 on a 5-foot-11-inch frame.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas famously broke an antique chair during a cabinet meeting before losing 110 pounds, becoming a presidential contender and writing a self-help book, “Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork.”

Short of that kind of success story, fat candidates have few ways of defending against the kind of attack Mr. Corzine is using, political consultants say.  Among them: always wear a jacket, never wear tight-fitting clothes, and never get photographed while eating.

It wasn’t so very long ago that such tactics might have backfired among voters. One of the liveliest presidential feuds occurred between presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. On Election Night in 1904, Roosevelt announced that he would not run for office again in 1908 and  virtually appointed his close friend and Secretary of War – William Howard Taft – as his successor. With Roosevelt’s support, Taft won by a landslide, but whereas the blustering Roosevelt had taken on the conservatives, the milder-mannered Taft instead chose the art of compromise. By the end of his term, Roosevelt had become convinced that Taft had betrayed the progressive principles he held so dear, and so decided to run against Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912.

A bitter feud developed between the once close friends, with Roosevelt calling Taft, among other things, a “Fathead.” The insults between them were so bitter that it was reported that Taft once broke out in tears after delivering a stinging attack on his opponent. Taft, as we’re so often taught in high school American history, infamously battled a weight problem since early childhood (ironically, he lost nearly 140 pounds after he left office). Roosevelt’s jab at his weight was only one of many slights he hurled at Taft and vice versa, but in the end, the bickering cost both men the election.  The feud split the Republication party and allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to defeat them both.

I don’t know much about the backgrounds of either Corzine or Christi, but from what I’ve briefly gleaned online, it seems that there is much in the way of Christie’s political record and positions that Corzine could attack instead of childishly insinuating that he’s a Super McFatty Fat Cat.  While my politics tend to veer left, I think that it’s the mark of a very desperate man who seeks to discredit his opponent not on the basis of his merits or lack thereof, but by his appearance.  Would we be so forgiving of this sort of fat-baiting if Christie came out with a campaign that suggests that Corzine “looks like a Jew”?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 8th, 2009 at 11:37 am and is filed under Body Snarking, Fat Bias, Fat History, Politics, Rachel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 18 responses to “N.J. Gov. Corzine breaks out the lard card”

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  1. 1 On October 8th, 2009, Bree said:

    It definitely sounds like a desperate wag the dog and one of the oldest, most childish ways to resort to insulting someone: if you can’t think of anything real to attack, you bring up weight. Corzine may lose a lot more if his fat supporters get fed up with the body-bashing and move away from him alltogether.

  2. 2 On October 8th, 2009, JM said:

    Not only is John Corzine my governor, but Bill Baroni is my state senator … and was a high school classmate of my sister.

    Bill frequents the same gym that I go to, and his “success story” is prominantly displayed. He’s not shy about boasting about his weight loss when it’s to his political advantage. But here, I’ve got to agree with his analysis: saying that ad has no subtlety is actually an understatement.

    I was pretty stunned by it the first time I saw it, so I was more attentive the second time. It’s ugly and mean-spirited.

    But ugly and mean-spirited are also understatements for politics in NJ. There’s a lot of talk about Bill running for Congress when our current representative retires, but I have a feeling that there would be plenty of meanness and ugliness that would come out if he did.

    But, I’m not going to vote for Christie because he’s fat, anymore than I’d vote for Sarah Palin because she’s female. Too socially conservative. I think this has just cemented my plan to vote for the major independent candidate.

  3. 3 On October 8th, 2009, Toni said:

    I’m reading “The Political Brain” by Drew Weston at the moment. It’s a really interesting study of how most voters, even though they may claim otherwise, really do make up their minds based on emotional reactions, not on voting record, positions on issues, etc.

    Painting your opponent as fat is probably a pretty smart, though not nice or necessarily fair, campaign tactic. Most people still carry the fat = lazy, stupid, inept, unqualified stereotypes around in their head. Just pointing out Christie’s weight is instantly building all those connections in voters’ heads, which are really unlikely to be swayed afterward.

  4. 4 On October 8th, 2009, littlem said:

    Wow. Just … wow.

    It never ceases to amaze when fauxgressives attempt to excuse fat bigotry on the grounds of “those right-wingers aren’t educated about what they eat. Therefore, fat! Hurr hurr!”

    It probably should cease to amaze, but it doesn’t. (Not yet, anyway.)

    And all, or mostly, with pictures, on the assumption that their target electorate is either too unlearned, or too busy, to know anything about semiotics. Weer not as SMRT as themm. Thaz why they shudd run the stayt and kuntree.

    Jeebus. Lunks should welcome death, anyone?

    I’m pretty disappointed that Corzine would let his advisors convince him that running this crap is a good idea.

    But then again, as commenters above me have said, there are some fairly entrenched and insidious stereotpyes in place, and people do seem to be either too exhausted or too intellectually lazy to think critically these days, so it’ll probably work.


  5. 5 On October 8th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @Toni: That book sounds a lot like “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” by Thomas Frank. Are you familiar with the work?

  6. 6 On October 8th, 2009, Seegz said:

    New Jersey has a government? Here I thought it was run in a system similar to the ones used by chimps.

  7. 7 On October 8th, 2009, BigLiberty said:

    I heard a right-leaning opinionator talk about this on my commute to work this morning — he made the point that over half the voting population is fat, and that Corzine going after Christie for his weight would alienate the fat demographic, and how stupid a move that really was.

    While I like hearing that some people are beginning to recognize the fact that the fat demographic has a lot of voting power, I don’t think, at this stage of the evolution of fat liberation, that fat people in general will get offended by yet another fat person getting made fun of on TV, even if that person isn’t some fictional character in a sitcom. I firmly believe that most fat people don’t see themselves as fat people, they see themselves as thinner people who have “let themselves go,” etc. So I’m not so sure they’d be sympathetic to Christie…quite on the contrary, I think it’s likely most buy into the fat-is-bad rhetoric.

    As a final point, this goes to show you that fat is fair game wherever you lie on the political spectrum. I bristled hearing so-called libertarian talkers dig on Sotomayor for her weight (like littlem’s fauxgressive, I need to figure out a term for fake libertarians. Lie-bertarians? …just doesn’t have a good ring to it). 

    So yeah, while we’re on the subject, libertarians? The whole respect for body autonomy and idea that anyone, regardless of their external “shell,” background, etc, can do great things? Yanno, the belief that the power and beauty of the individual is inside each one of us? Suggesting Sotomayor (or any other person) isn’t “fit” for the job because of the shape of her body doesn’t fall into line with any of those ideas. Just saying.

    I can’t stand campaigns that start playing these kindergarten games. I firmly believe there is *always* a substantive way to argue with your opponent. Otherwise, you would agree with him and wouldn’t be running against him, right? Right. So get on with it.

  8. 8 On October 8th, 2009, Bethface said:

    I am not even surprised anymore what politicians are willing to do. For some it is about winning and that is all.

  9. 9 On October 8th, 2009, Liza said:

    I’m glad I don’t live in NJ. I’d hate to have to choose between a Republican and someone who resorts to fat jokes.

  10. 10 On October 8th, 2009, Meowser said:

    Can’t they both lose? (And it’s “Corzine” with a “z,” BTW, not “Corvine.”)

    I’d love to say this hits a new low, but about 30 years ago Al D’Amato created the poo standard for sleaze with his “Jacob Javits [New York's longtime senator] is OLD and I’m not, neener neener” ads, which won D’Amato the Republican nomination for Senate and subsequently New York’s Senate seat (in a three-way race that included Javits as an independent).

    But at least D’Amato had a cogent point to make — that Javits might not survive his next six-year Senate term because of his advanced age — even if he showed zero class making it. (As it happened, Javits did pass away a few years later and wouldn’t have survived the term if he’d won.) What’s Corzine’s point? That he’s “better-looking”? What’s that have to do with governing? Christie, at 47, is statistically unlikely to pass away from natural causes in the next four years; frankly, Corzine, at 60, is more likely to do so, daily jogging or no daily jogging.

    No, this is another “fat equals stupid and dishonest” meme, and I think BL is right: Most fat people don’t think of themselves as “fat,” but believe their true selves are thin, and that within five years they will get and stay thin and not be like those other stupid and delusional fatties. Hence, this campaign is likely to be a winner (although residual mistrust of Republicans in a blue state doesn’t help Christie either, regardless of Corzine’s unpopularity). How many failed diets is it going to take to convince them that they don’t have final say in their size?

    On the other hand, if it was Corzine who was fat and Christie who was thin, you wouldn’t hear a peep out of the fauxgressive d00ds on DKos about Corzine’s weight.

  11. 11 On October 8th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @Meowser: Yeah, I’m not sure why I typed Corvine in the first graf and Corzine all throughout the rest of the post. It’s not like the V and Z are even close enough that I can blame it on a type. I’m a fast typer and my fingers often move faster than my brain.

    @Liza: I find as a general rule that elections are usually a matter of choosing between the lesser of two evils.

  12. 12 On October 9th, 2009, BigLiberty said:

    I want to echo Meowser’s point she made about faux-gressives — there were far fewer on the right standing up for Sotomayor when she was being raked through the mud for being “too fat,” than there are those who are standing up for Christie, or who routinely stand up for Limbaugh against fat-attacks (though he’s yo-yoing back to thinner, currently).

    I also think it’s depressing that there are fewer fat politicians these days. Like they’d lose credibility with the people because of their waistline being arbitrarily “too” large, though it’s still widely accepted that your local politician might be a lying, manipulative cheater. Guess anything is better than being fat, eh? Gar.

  13. 13 On October 9th, 2009, Rachel said:

    I wrote a post a while ago with my thoughts on faux-gressives… The disconnect among otherwise liberal progressives never fails to amaze me.

  14. 14 On October 9th, 2009, Cammy said:

    This issue is also the topic of the day on the Opinionator blog, which presents arguments from both sides of the issue:

    One idea that could be useful is for Corzine to try to use it as a class issue to rally voters. But I agree, the fact that his leadership skills are being judged by his pant size is really disgusting.

  15. 15 On October 12th, 2009, Doug said:

    The implication among thin Daily Kossers is that only right-wingers are fat like Rush Limbaugh and this guy running for Governor of New Jersey. Last I checked, everyone is fat.

  16. 16 On October 16th, 2009, The Digest: F-words making the news » said:

    [...] or just prejudiced?  After months of guised jabs at Rep. N.J. gubernatorial challenger Chris Christie’s weight, Democratic State Committee [...]

  17. 17 On October 30th, 2009, Will Chris Christie’s Fat Frankness Turn the Tide? « Big Liberty said:

    [...] His opponent’s focus on his fat (see Rachel’s excellent post on the subject). [...]

  18. 18 On January 13th, 2010, D(A)ve said:

    I’m a dedicated chubby chaser and lover of big beautiful women so I don’t mean to totally disagree w/ you, just point out that the republican party is obsolete and corrupt, and the backbone of the problems we are going through right now. Therefore, anything this corzine guy says about this christie guy in the way of making him out to be flawed and wrong is fine with me. I hate the democrats too, but the republicans are truly unfit to be a political party. And honestly, I am offended by the number of republicans who are fat. I feel as though they’re gorging themselves on our food to gloat, or if not to gloat per se, at least it shows how very deeply they are convinced that taking what is ours at their leasure doesn’t matter. if christie said corzine looked like a jew, it would backfire- not because fat people are more worthy of hate than jews or vice versa- but because it would call attention back to the fact that, after all, when you cut through the fat and the muscle and get to the bare bones of the matter here, today’s republicans are basically nazis.

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