Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicator means that this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)


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Setting aside any opinions about his politics, it’s a shame that Chris Christie decided not to get into the presidential race, because we probably won’t have a rip-roaring debate about one of our most deep-seated prejudices. It’s the one against fat people, bigotry with a capital “BIG.” In the immortal words of Christie himself, much of the commentary was fat-out “ignorant.”

Those, for instance, who characterized his extremely portly physique as the manifestation of an inner lack of discipline were revealing their own flabby thinking about a subject that is much more, uh, weighty than the usual fluff.

First of all, the battle of the pounds is a struggle of massive proportions. Ask former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who is again on the upward trajectory of the loss-gain seesaw. Or inquire of Newt Gingrich how rough it is on one’s self-esteem to labor with a condition that is so widely ostracized. He would much rather tell us about the other “big ideas” he alone has.

Should those of us pondering a potential candidate for our highest office even bother discussing the size of his waist? Or is it a waste of time? A really good ancillary question would focus on the chances of corpulent woman. Fat chance?

By the way, there’s a reason for the snarky language here. It reveals the steady diet of cruelty we could expect if anyone so demonstrably unfit and untrim got into the race. When Christie ran for governor of New Jersey, the forces of his Democratic opponent, Jon Corzine, released a TV commercial showing Christie getting out of a car with his belly jiggling while the announcer complained about how “Christie threw his weight around.” Christie beat Corzine, but it is common for us to hear slim showoffs make sure we know how swell it is that they’re svelte.

What is so remarkable about our narrow-mindedness is how such intolerance is tolerated in an America with such a spreading number of the obese — one-third of all adults, according to the study released in January 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another third of us are merely overweight.

Childhood obesity is scariest of all. According to the CDC: “Approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese.” It’s an epidemic that experts agree brings many scary medical conditions to the table — heart problems, diabetes, kidney disease and a weaker resistance to a huge range of other life-threatening conditions.

Does all of the above make a candidate’s girth a valid issue? Yes indeedy, and in fairness, the fact that Barack Obama was a smoker in 2008 also would have been an issue, had we not been so enraptured of him. Smoking, after all, is even more dangerous than stuffing our faces.

But compulsive overeating is more insidious than the usual addictions, because we can’t “Just Say No” to nutrition, nor to the seductive advertising from the pushers in the conglomerates.

When first lady Michelle Obama came along and had the temerity to suggest that there should be some government involvement in the problem, she was vilified for trying to create a “nanny state.”

Who are the jeer leaders? The industry propagandists and lobbyists. Just because Christie has bowed out, the issue has not gone away. Actually, he gave up an opportunity to turn his lemons into lemonade (sugar-free, of course) with some unique fundraising. Imagine him doing lucrative Jenny Craig commercials.

As for the jokes, they are painful no matter how Christie dismisses them: “As long as they’re funny, what the hell do I care?” The jolly fat man is a fraud. He does care. We all should care about the nation’s obesity problem.

© 2011 Bob Franken

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