The race for the GOP nomination is, at the moment, preoccupied with one topic: Is Chris Christie too fat to run for president?
The question was raised on The View and is being debated in numerous media outlets from the New York Times to David Letterman to the Washington Post. Photos of Christie next to Obama taken when the two toured Hurricane Irene-flooded New Jersey make it very clear: Christie would not find sitting in econo-class to his liking.
As Jonathan Chait writes in New York Magazine, Christie’s weight shouldn’t be an issue in his candidacy. The fact that “American elites” are making an issue about it shows how they are “repulsed at the notion that a very fat guy could rise to a position of symbolic leadership.” More to the point are Christie’s positions on issues ranging from climate change (he says that the science about human behavior playing a role in global warming is “undeniable”), to his support of the federal assault weapons ban, to his 2008 statement (while a federal prosecutor) that “being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime.” Pundits are touting his success at putting New Jersey on a diet in a fiscal sense, as a result of putting a cap on property taxes, rolling back pension benefits and balancing the NJ state budget.
As a resident of New Jersey, I have been seeing the effects of what is in many ways a “forced” diet. Christie had singled out teachers (“welfare queens,” in the blustery parlance that so many are lauding as eloquence) and the teacher’s union, as well as a number of programs for women’s health and services for individuals with disabilities, as prime culprits for the “bloat” on the state’s budget. Christie has won praise and attention for his educational reforms which include a reevaluation of teacher tenure.
It’s been interesting seeing Christie, whose governing style (as displayed in the ugly fight over New Jersey’s budget this past summer) tends towards bullying, being transformed into Mr. Moderate, the new darling of the GOP. Back here in New Jersey, the effects of Christie’s “slim down fest” on the state have been gradually, inexorably taking their toll. New Jersey’s unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, higher than the national average of 9.1 percent. In chatting to the checkers at our local grocery store, I’ve realized that more and more of them are recent college graduates (often in education) who say there simply aren’t any jobs. My current students who are freshmen and sophomores are changing majors, adding minors and reconsidering their options to make the most of their four years in school, before they face a very uncertain job market.
Every year, my town hosts a sidewalk pick-up: Residents can (for a fee, of course) put old and broken furniture, basement junk, no-longer-needed children’s equipment and the like out and the town hauls it away. Every year, before the town’s trucks come by, people sort through the piles. Last year, they took everything except for some old planks and a plastic tabletop from a desk my husband had had since the 1960s. Someone did take the metal legs of the table, unscrewing them and tossing them into the back of a pickup truck. After Hurricane Irene flooded thousands of homes in my town, people searched through the piles of water-damaged items stacked on front lawns.
Christie is in the spotlight for implementing something like the austerity measures that Greece’s government is. Analysts are warning that Greeks and others have had so many austerity reforms (and new taxes) heaped onto them that people are reaching a breaking point. The fiscal “diet” that Christie has put New Jersey on is creating just such unease and malaise.
Christie won the governorship in a campaign that emphasized he was a “regular guy” who understood what it’s like to be an ordinary Jerseyan. As he jets from one fund-raising dinner to another (who knows where next? Christie has made it clear, he doesn’t have to tell NJ residents his whereabouts), it’s debatable whether Christie is feeling the pain and pangs of Jerseyans who are tightening their belts. His plate right now is very full.
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