I remember that when Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, Republican spinsters and members of the press, looking for real issues to discuss, went after the candidate's waistline, the fluctuation of which was seen as a sort of living metaphor for the way this free-spending Democrat was sure to inflate the federal budget deficit, if he were given half a chance. One New Republic editorial that stuck in my head darkly suggested that Clinton's tummy was a sign of an all-encompassing tendency towards decadence of every kind; noting that Clinton couldn't have much time or opportunity to be bagging babes while on the campaign trail, it pointed to his apparent weight gain as proof that, when his "libido" could not be sated, he had to compensate by shifting "into chowhound mode." Fifteen years later, I'm still not sure what exactly the point of all that was, unless the writer just wanted to alert people that whenever Clinton was looking fit, it would be a good time for photographers to stake out his hotel balcony, and when he was looking heavier than usual, it might be the best time to sneer at him because he wasn't getting any.
Thinking about it did make me wonder, though: given all the horrible crap that candidates are obligated to ingest when they're on the road, trying to bond with the waddling masses, how do they all manage to avoid comparison with William Howard Taft? Have the demands of the television age resulted in our running a bunch of bulimics for president? Thank God, The New York Times is on the case! In a front-page piece illustrated with notably unappetizing photos of Hillary Clinton and the Rude boy Giuliani (who is shaping up, pound for pound, to be the least photogenic American politician at the national level since the nineteenth-century era of bad beards), Jodi Kantor writes that "Those wanting to be president must never, ever refuse or fumble the local specialties, lest they repeat the sins of John Kerry (dismissed as effete when he ordered a Philly cheese steak with Swiss in 2004) or Gerald R. Ford (on a 1976 swing through Texas, he bit into a tamale with the corn husk still on)." Former White House chef Walter Scheib explains that eating some scary-looking regional favorite that's forced on you at a campaign pit stop is a way of saying, “I’m one of you. I’m part of this area. Vote for me...There are few things more personal than eating, and if you reject someone’s food, you kind of reject them.” Consequently, Scheib says, candidates are “for all intents and purposes out of control of their diets.”
That said, some seem to work harder to maintain some measure of control than others. I for one am fascinated by the news that Mitt Romney "eats the same thing every day: his wife’s granola for breakfast, a chicken or turkey sandwich for lunch, and pasta, fish or chicken for dinner." Einstein used to wear the same outfit every day because it left his brain free to concentrate on more interesting things than mixing and matching. Does Romney find that, by permitting himself no choice in what he shovels down the hatch, it somehow makes it that much easier for him to keep his political opinions and other stated beliefs constantly shifting like go-go dancers in a strobe lit cage? If I were Maureen Dowd, I could probably milk this for a couple of weeks. Then there's the case of poor Mike Huckabee, who before losing more than a hundred pounds once killed a chair with his then-spacious butt. The thought of Huckabee as president may give you the shakes, but surely those of us who are recovering from Thanksgiving today can lend him some sympathy on this. In my own weakened condition, I almost wish I could elect him president right this minute just so he'll never have to have another kielbasa shoved in his face.