That joke isn’t funny anymore


As distasteful and enraging as this year’s presidential election season has been, the one I’m really dreading is the next one, especially if Chris Christie is the Republican nominee – and for entirely non-political reasons.

Those who know me can tell you that I’m more likely to vote for Christie Brinkley than for Chris Christie, the bellicose New Jersey governor who delivered the keynote address at this year’s GOP convention. But, if Christie were to be nominee in 2016, then what will be said about him will likely be as ugly as anything he himself might say, despite his reputation for tough-guy talk.

That’s because Mr. Christie is – to use blunt language that he himself would approve of – fat, and those who oppose him will not for a minute let us forget that fact.

We’ve already seen a bit of it this year when Christie first rose to national prominence during the primaries. Political comics such as Bill Maher and Jon Stewart didn’t hesitate to mock Christie’s weight for a cheap laugh in a way that they would never do with any other physical attribute. And Christie was never even a candidate. Imagine if he were.

So allow me to lay the first ground rules on the coming food fight for the 2016 election:

Enough with the fat jokes.

Particularly from liberals who pride themselves on looking beyond such attributes as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and able-bodiedness, indulging in fat phobia is more than mere bad taste. It’s rank moral hipocrisy.

Hey, I’m no schoolmarm here. I’m a repeat offender myself. I’ve occasionally judged fat people on a moral scale that rationally in no way applies to them. But ultimately, that’s my problem, not theirs.

So why then is weight the one physical attribute that still engenders ridicule? And why does that ridicule often come from people who would be horrified to be labeled racist or sexist?

The answer obviously lies in our perceptions of choice and free will. In the Santa Cruz moral universe, judging others is as egregious a sin as choking a baby seal with a plastic bag, but judging is something we all have to do to get by in the world – plus, it’s a lot of fun.

The story of the 20th century is the story of an idea finally sinking into the thick skulls of the human animal that it is not fair – indeed, it is a kind of moral wickedness – to judge people on the basis of something not of their choosing, whether it be height or skin color – though not everyone has yet seen the memo on that one.

On the other hand, it is fair, indeed necessary, to judge people on their free and conscious choices and decisions. That bedrock idea is what everything from elections to criminal justice is based on.

What we haven’t yet figured out, however, is whether being fat is a choice or not. Obviously, your weight has a lot to do with what you eat and how much, and what you eat is a reflection of your values and belief systems, and therefore a perfectly reasonable thing on which other people can judge you. But just as obviously, genetics plays an equally enormous role in what your body looks like, and that’s clearly out of bounds.

So, since medical science has never answered the question of why we are fat one way or the other, we too often are seduced by the temptation to draw parallels between a person’s weight and their attitude about living with others in the world. And thus are born these knee-jerk attitudes that fat people are lazy, gluttonous and selfish.

Before you go making the argument that weight is something that can be controlled and it’s perfectly legitimate to make assumptions about a person who refuses to assume that control, think about height for second. No rational person is going to equate how tall you are with your character, yet subconsciously that happens all the time. No one admits it, but tall people are regularly seen as stronger or better than shorter people.

Liberals often accuse conservatives of “blaming the victim” when it comes to poverty and are often outraged when confronted with the discredited notion that poor people are poor by choice or as a result of their behavior. Yet the same liberals will often apply that kind of thinking when it comes to body image.

The point is that the reptile mind wants to make instant judgments on other people, even on illegitimate information. In terms of race, gender and other attributes, we’ve been able to overrule those animal impulses with reason and fairness. But that’s not been the case for weight, where rationality and blind prejudice each have a claim on the truth.

Because of that uncertainty, fat phobia is the gray prejudice. Obviously, obesity is a huge health risk and growing to epidemic proportions. But, when you consider any one individual, that’s never the whole story.

So why not choose decency and respect over judgment? There are many reasons to oppose Chris Christie, but his pants size isn’t one of them.

It’s time for people who respect human diversity to kill the fat joke and demonstrate that we are – pun most definitely intended – bigger than that.



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