Fat is looking like a big issue in the upcoming presidential election. One of the candidates – Mike Huckabee – lost 100 lbs and is making the “war on obesity” a major part of his campaign. Al Gore’s weight is being viewed as barometer of both his electability and his desire to run. In a recent NPR interview, it was speculated that Bill Richardson is not being taken seriously as a candidate because of his weight. As a breath of fresh air, last week Richard Cohen wrote an editorial in the Washington Post, Politics by the Pound, condemning weight as a measure of presidential ability, but acknowledging its importance in this election.
And just today, the current president announced his nominee for Surgeon General, declaring that his main focus will be “efforts on educating parents and children about childhood obesity.” And not to be outdone, Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger recently teamed up to “fight obesity. ”
Politicians are now seeing fat as an opportunity to advance their careers (or for others, as an insurmountable liability), and this is more than a little unsettling. As politician after politician sets their sights on this single nail, I worry they’ll start thinking everything looks like a hammer. After all, there’s only so many soda machines you can remove from the schools. There’s only so many speeches you can make warning about fat heralding the downfall of civilization. And nobody really knows what the cause of the “obesity epidemic” is, but there sure have been a lot of suggestions. And each of those proliferating hypothetical “causes” can lead to any number of half-baked political “solutions.”
Of most concern, I wonder at what point will political oneupmanship start tempting these politicians — now committed to “solving the crisis” — to turn towards the draconian policies we’ve recently seen advocated by our more zealous anti-obesity crusaders: the promotion of discrimination in the workplace; taxes and health insurance penalties for the fat; or classifying parents of fat children as “child abusers.”
So what do you think – do you think that a fat candidate could be electable? Do you think politicians jumping on the obesity bandwagon is a real issue, or is it just so much political hot air?