Fitness: It’s Not for Presidential Candidates Any More

Debbie says:

Perhaps the most ludicrous obstacle yet to be placed in Barack Obama’s path is this one, in which Amy Chozick of the Wall Street Journal worries that he may be “Too Fit to Be President.”

… in a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability? Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique just might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.

Chozick fails to mention that George Bush is thin and fit and it doesn’t seem to worry him.

Economic and political blogger Brad DeLong did a little research into Chozick’s research, and found (through Gavin M. at Sadly No) that she apparently based her entire article on a thread she started on a Yahoo message board. She started with the fair and balanced question “Does anyone out there think Barack Obama is too thin to be president? Anyone having a hard time relating to him and his ‘no excess body fat’? Please let me know. Thanks!”

“onlinebeerbellygirl” said: Yes I think He is to skinny to be President.Hillary has a potbelly and chuckybutt I’d of Voted for Her.I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.

Chozick responded with praise and a request: “Would you mind shooting me an email so I can ask you a few more quesitons? My email is [redacted] Thanks so much! -Amy”

Gavin says: The entire rest of the brief thread consists of people saying that the question is stupid, and/or making fun of Chozick…. Ms. Chozick seems to have deleted her messages from the thread literally as I was typing this.

So much for the article. Predictably and unfortunately, the right wing (for this purpose, I’m not counting the WSJ as part of the right wing) is having their way with this idea. I’m fascinated that they call Obama “manorexic,” a term I hadn’t heard before.

Here’s the real deal (and you heard it first at Body Impolitic). This isn’t about fitness and it isn’t about fat. It’s coded racism: another way to remind white voters that “Obama isn’t like you, so you can’t vote for him.” With Hillary Clinton out of the race, the Republicans can no longer say that people will vote either their race or their gender. Since it’s not acceptable in 21st century America to say, “You’re white; voting for an African-American man is race-traitor behavior,” they have to find other ways to keep playing the race card. This involves looking for other ways to divide Obama from what they are calling the “voting public,” i.e., mostly white men with a sprinkling of white women (most of us are supposed to stay home and pout because when Hillary lost, we lost our chance to vote for “someone like us”).

Here’s what we all know. Most voters are not white men. In 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more women voted than men. None of us female American citizens can use our gender to pick a presidential candidate from a major party, and it doesn’t seem very likely that we’ll be able to do so for vice-president either. In fact, we’ve never been able to use our gender as a selection criterion for a major party presidential candidate, and only once for a vice presidential candidate. If you’re a person of color, you’ve never been able to vote for anyone “like you” as a major party national candidate … until this year. If you’re Jewish, one presidential and one vice-presidential major party candidate. If you’re Arabic, or of other Mediterranean extraction, one high-profile third-party candidate (Ralph Nader, for those keeping score). If you’re Catholic, you’ve had a few chances; if you’re not Christian, forget it. If you’re poor, you’ve never been able to vote for a candidate “like you” on that score, though we’ve had a few who started out that way.

Think of it that way, and add in a few more categories (disabled? gay? fat? under 30?) and it becomes clear that a rather small minority of voters can vote even for the unimpeachably white and male John McCain if the criterion is “he has to be like me.” Maybe only people who have both been prisoners of war and have been in the higher echelons of nationwide multibillion-dollor corruption scandals can genuinely vote for McCain, while only African-American men with prep school educations can vote for Obama. So maybe everyone else should stay home?

In fact, you and I (and the Yahoo message boards) know that this is one arena where body image really doesn’t matter, and almost no one in the electorate gives a rat’s ass about it. The people who do think Obama’s skin color is a reason not to vote for him are already convinced, and the rest of us aren’t going to be fooled by crap like this.

Thanks to Alan Bostick for the pointer and the insight into what the article means, and to Rich Dutcher for the Brad deLong background. ETA: Also to Jill and Trinker for reminding me in comments of Joe Lieberman (and, for that matter, Barry Goldwater) and Ralph Nader.

10 thoughts on “Fitness: It’s Not for Presidential Candidates Any More

  1. On the whole I agree with you, but I have a nit to pick — the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate in 2000 was Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish.

  2. I agree with your basic premise, but find a small error, unless I misread you, which I suspect I may have.

    [quote] If you’re a person of color, you’ve never been able to vote for anyone “like you” as a major party national candidate … until this year. Oh, also if you’re Jewish, Arabic, or of Mediterranean extraction [quote]

    I think you’re omitting Joe Lieberman (Jewish) and Ralph Nader (Arab). Or do they not qualify for “not the top spot” and “not either Rep or Dem” ?

  3. I’m confused by “If you’re Jewish, one presidential and one vice-presidential major party candidate.” Joe Lieberman was the VP candidate in 2000, but who was the major-party Jewish presidential candidate? Is that a reference to the fraction of John Kerry that’s Jewish? His Catholicism got way more publicity in 2004 because he’s pro-choice.

  4. Her logic only holds true if we lived in a culture that VALUES their own fat, the fat on their peers and their leaders and movie stars, etc.

    We don’t. We like thin beautiful people here. I think Barack Obama’s got a leg up on the looks/fitness department.

    Except that we’re so used to overweight bald white geezers being our political leaders and we usually vote for them – sorry that wasn’t very politically correct.

  5. I think the logic about the presidential candidate goes thus:

    from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_goldwater
    Goldwater was born in 1909 in Phoenix, in what was then the Arizona Territory, the son of Baron Goldwater and his wife Hattie Josephine Williams. […] The family name had been changed from Goldwasser to Goldwater at least as early as the 1860 census in Los Angeles, California. Goldwater’s paternal grandparents, Michel and Sarah (Nathan) Goldwasser, were Jewish and had been married in the Great Synagogue of London.[2] Goldwater was raised in his mother’s Episcopalian faith, though he referred to himself as “half-Jewish”.[3] These details led the Jewish essayist Harry Golden to famously remark of Goldwater, “I have always thought that if a Jew ever became President, he would turn out to be an Episcopalian.”[4]

    i.e. Barry Goldwater is Jewish by heritage on his father’s side, but neither observant, nor Jewish by Jewish standards (because his mother is not Jewish).

    Joe Lieberman, by contrast, is observant.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Lieberman#Religion
    “The Liebermans keep a kosher home and observe Shabbat. Nonetheless, some Orthodox Jews have voiced concerns about the Liebermans’ omissions, such as Hadassah’s infrequent covering of her head.[10]”

  6. I think this is not so much about racism as about “elitism.” The Republicans have been very good at painting Democrats as “elitist,” while Republicans with similar incomes and backgrounds get away with portraying them as regular guys.

    But no, if it were all about voting for someone “just like me,” most of us would stay home.

    However, there is one important sense in which I do feel Obama is like me: we’re about the same age. (And Michelle Obama and I are almost exactly the same age.) That doesn’t make me more (or less) inclined to vote for him, but it does make me feel that I understand some of where he’s coming from, as a generational thing.

  7. Oops, that should be “Republicans with similar incomes and backgrounds get away with portraying themSELVES as regular guys.”

  8. Oh, and one other thing: Herbert Hoover’s VP, Charles Curtis, was something like 1/4 American Indian and spent several years of his childhood living on a reservation.

    This doesn’t refute your point, of course, but it’s an interesting bit of information that I only recently became aware of…..

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