Politics and media evolve side by side. From the printing press all the way to Twitter, while political communications grow and develop, so does the way the public engages with its political leaders. Of the innovations that have changed the way we interact with politicians, there is no doubt that the TV is one of the most important, since it made image a crucial part of any political platform.
It’s a phenomenon studied by academics all over the world, heralded primarily by University of Cambridge sociologist John B. Thompson. The argument is that in the pre-television era, oratory reigned supreme, while image fell by the wayside – think FDR and his “hidden” paralytic polio, or William Howard Taft and his 300+ pound girth – and that since its American commercial birth in the late 1920s, the television has produced a string of attractive, charismatic politicians – think of JFK, Clinton, and Obama. Charisma and image matter now. A politician is a commodity, and he’s not just selling his politics anymore, he’s selling himself (or herself, of course).
All this is a preamble to what may be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s subtle announcement to the world that he intends to run for the presidency in 2016.
According to an update in the New York Post earlier Tuesday, the governor of the Garden State secretly underwent lap-band stomach surgery last February, plummeting about 40 pounds through the procedure. The Republican politician insisted that the decision to go through with the surgery was purely for health-benefit reasons, and that he was motivated much more by his wife and four kids than he was by any inclination towards a presidential bid in the next election cycle. But critics beg to differ.
The governor admits to having struggled with his weight for decades, and although he sometimes lightheartedly jokes about his over 300-pound frame, it is sometimes a sensitive issue. Christie already battled against American obesity stigmas in his 2009 gubernatorial race against ex-New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, whose campaign targeted Christie’s size through various slanderous weight-targeted ads. Although Christie came out on top in that election, his weight is not a factor he’d like to address again if running for higher political office. Which is why most political fundraisers are claiming that his recent surgery is a clear sign that Christie will join the 2016 presidential race, and will do whatever it takes to win.
Whether or not you think the infiltration of image in politics is right or wrong, it’s undoubtedly there. And right now it seems like Chris Christie might be playing the political game our country has created – lose weight to gain votes.