Let me have me about me that are fat,

Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep a-nights.

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;

He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

Shakespeare[1]

Remember when Republicans were trying to come up with a Presidential candidate for the last election. The Conservative media had not yet selected one, but – as Boss Tweed might have said – were considering their opportunities[2]; and Governor Christie attracted quite a bit of notice because, among all of the possible candidates, he seemed to be able to win elections in a Democratic state. That’s not something Conservatives do easily.

At the time we thought Christie didn’t stand much of a chance because, let’s face it, any candidate who was attractive to Democrats couldn’t possibly appeal to the Right. Only the most ideologically committed bother to vote in primaries, and amongst Republicans the primary voters were the ones who detested Government in all of its manifestations except when it waged war in the Middle East. We didn’t know how Gov. Christie stood on war and peace, but we were pretty sure he sort of liked Government in general. He wasn’t likely to dismantle it simply to make it smaller.

And Gov. Christie had another, more basic problem with Conservatives. You see, he was, and is, a bit overweight. Actually he’s a lot overweight. It wasn’t something he could hide, like wrinkles, baldness, incontinence or even senile dementia; other politicians conceal their defects, but his excess pounds were on display whenever he appeared in public. News presenters, male and female, nattered on about his weight at every opportunity, and pundits opined gravely about his health. It was a never-ending story line.

Frankly we thought that was ridiculous. Surely policy disagreements are more important than appearances! But we were very, very wrong. The art of politics is salesmanship, and probably always has been. But today U.S. politicians don’t sell policies or programs; they don’t try to indoctrinate the public. Bill Clinton was the last to do that. Instead they sell appearances and branded products.

This is the kind of thing our media are particularly good at. They don’t go under the hood to sell a car; instead, they show a picture of it, together with a pretty girl. To knock down a politician, they don’t do a deep study of his or her positions on the issues of the day. Instead, they look for unflattering photographs and/or TV outtakes, and talk endlessly about those. If they can’t find anything like that, they talk endlessly about the electoral horse race, even if it hasn’t started yet. They obsess about who’s ahead, who’s behind, and so forth; not about programs and policies.

So appearances really do count in 21st Century America, and not just in New York fashion magazines. Is this a new development? Probably, yes. Certainly it’s not Biblical. The old notion was that men look at, and are fooled by appearances. God looks through all that, and directly into the human heart.[3] Back in the day, most people agreed God’s approach was better.

“But we’re not God,” you might say. “We can’t look directly into the human heart, so we have to judge by appearances. Why blame us for that?”

Well, that’s certainly true, and perhaps the media accept that they, also, are not God. But if they’re going to rely on appearances to judge candidates, they have to admit – how should I say this? – that appearances are deceptive. [4] They can be a show, put on by the devious to fool the credulous.

Keep up appearances; there lies the test;

The world will give thee credit for the rest.

Outward be fair, however foul within;

Sin if thou wilt, but then in secret sin.[5]

Our ancestors knew that and so should we. You just can’t trust appearances.[6] And, by the way, it’s also dangerous to deal in them. Take, for example, the RNC Convention of 2012. If you looked at it, and we did, what you saw was a predominately white, middle class crowd of thin people. We don’t know how tickets were distributed to that event, but that’s who showed up. And who did those people nominate? Mitt Romney, probably the thinnest of the candidates available, and his thin sidekick, Paul Ryan. If you took a victory photograph of the candidates, and their families, then panned to the audience, you would have seen a sea of thinness, a mass of people who all looked basically alike. It looked like high noon at a prairie dog colony. If you don’t catch the metaphor, take a look at Animal Planet, Conger, Can I catch plague from a prairie dog?, at http://www.animalplanet.com/mammals/prairie-dog-plague.htm  for a brief history.

But you see, not everybody in this country is thin. In fact, recent statistics show that the U.S. is one of the most obese countries in the world, exceeded only by Nauru, Tonga other Pacific Island nations and Mexico.[7] The number of people who are overweight in this country is larger than those who are simply obese. Taken together, in this country those who are obese or simply overweight far outnumber the thin.

Thin people are deviant group in the general population, and, by long tradition, are not seen as trustworthy. Shakespeare identified the problem. Thin people think too much, and are prone to hatch plots. Cassius certainly did, and he succeeded. He led the plot to murder Caesar, although it didn’t turn out well for him in the end.

If Republicans want to expand their political influence, they have to shake off their addiction to thinness. They need to expand their tent, to accommodate overweight people and, above all, to make room for Chris Christie in their inner circles. And, of course, they need to avoid even the appearance that they, or their media, are plotting against him. Drop the fat jokes and snide comments. Don’t even think them!

Of course, nobody over there on the Right will listen, but that’s fine. They’re just making it possible for us to say “We told you so!” after the 2016 election.


[1] That’s from Julius Caesar. Cassius led the plot to assassinate Caesar, and succeeded. If you don’t have a copy of Shakespeare’s plays, you can find the quote in Rees, Brewer’s Famous Quotations (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2006) at Shakespeare, p. 412, n. 4.

[2] If you want to know more about Boss Tweed, check out the Wikipedia article on him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_M._Tweed

[3] See 1 Samuel Ch. 16, v. 7: “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

[4] Old Proverb. See The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (Oxford, 6th Edition, 2004) (hereafter, ODQ at __) at Proverbs, p. 614, n. 26.

[5] That’s from a poem written by Charles Churchill in 1761. See ODQ at Charles Churchill, p. 219-220, n. 22.

[6] See ODQ at Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The School for Scandal, p. 734, n. 3: “There is no trusting appearances”

[7] Our obesity rate is 31.8%; Mexico’s is 32.8%. See Opposing Views, Davis, Mexico is Now the Most Obese Country in the World ( July 09, 2013 ) at http://www.opposingviews.com/tags/mexico-overweight#

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