What do New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, gay marriage and Barack Obama have in common? The media spent years laying the groundwork for their popularity. As Mitt Romney studies hard for a vice presidential pick, smart analysts are probably assessing the impact of Christie as BMOC (Big Man Out Campaigning), especially since he wants to distract from media feeding frenzy about Bain.
The media focused a lot on Christie’s weighty issues in primary season when desperate Republicans pushed hard for him to run. It brought out the naysayers like GOP strategist Ed Rollins who complained of GOP leaders that “a lot of them are fat like me.”
And certainly it brought out immaturity among critics. Columnist Michael Kinsley said Christie was “just too fat” to be president. MSNBC joke Chris Matthews made fun of the governor’s weight, saying: “‘I’m going to cut the budget,’ well, how about starting with supper?” From “The View” host Joy Behar to The Washington Post, media types made fat jokes. On “Inside Washington,” allegedly professional pundits from Politico, The Washington Post, Bloomberg and PBS all made fat jokes in one rapid-fire juvenile episode.
And they were all wrong. They think America dislikes heavy-set guys. It’s quite the opposite, thanks to the very media they represent. And that support mirrors the kind of media campaign that has benefitted both gay marriage and Obama.
Back in May, Vice President Joe Biden credited TV with the rise of gay marriage in the United States. “I take a look at when things really begin to change is when the social culture changes. ... I think ‘Will & Grace’ did more to educate the American public more than almost anything anybody has done so far.”
He was entirely correct. Since Billy Crystal in “Soap,” the entertainment industry has been promoting the gay agenda on TV and in movies – from TV shows like “Friends” and now “Glee” to movies such as “Brokeback Mountain.” That has certainly had an impact, especially with young people.
Obama has enjoyed a similar benefit from Hollywood. In recent years, television and movies have bombarded viewers with images of successful, strong and popular African-American presidents. Dennis Haysbert as President David Palmer in “24” and Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck in “Deep Impact” are just two examples.
Haysbert not only gave $2,300 to the Obama campaign, he was happy to take some credit for the win. “If anything, my portrayal of David Palmer, I think, may have helped open the eyes of the American people.”
But Hollywood has been preparing us for a caustic big man for far longer and it could well be to Christie’s, and perhaps Romney’s, benefit.
Sure, TV has long celebrated the beautiful people, but there’s no more solid stereotype than the fat guy everyman. From Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners” to Fred Flintstone to comedy’s John Belushi and John Candy to Homer Simpson, TV loves an irascible big man.
It’s been such a TV staple that it’s become part of our cultural DNA. Big guys who are the crème brûlée of media – hard on the outside and soft in the middle. Ed Asner playing Lou Grant or Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker were ‘70s icons. The years have changed but big men still rule and now TV has given them beautiful wives as well.
There’s Kevin James who was king of “King of Queens,” Jim Belushi of “According to Jim” and of course “Modern Family” star Ed O’Neil. They act tough but they’re seldom mean. They are Santa for a more cynical era. Even Tony Soprano had his family side.
None other than Aaron Sorkin bought into the stereotype in the later years of “West Wing.” Sorkin, who helped mold the liberal fantasy that is Obama, also introduced a chunky Republican played by John Goodman called Glenallen Walken. Goodman played a nice, sharp, tough Speaker of the House who did a brief stint as president.
“In case you boys haven't noticed, I'm one prime-rib dinner away from sudden cardiac arrest,” Walken said as reason for naming a VP. It’s that very sarcastic and self-deprecating side of TV’s Big Men that has also endeared them to America.
And that’s the side that many Americans see in Christie, whether they like his politics or not. He flamed Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson as an “ignoramus,” called a reporter an “idiot” and “stupid” in a press conference and even yelled at a heckler on the boardwalk.
Even chunky liberal Michael Moore said that overweight America would tolerate a fat president “because most of America looks like me.”
As with most vice presidential picks, who Romney chooses is not about serving as VP, it’s about winning. Early rumors have former Bush Secretary of State Condi Rice joining, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and little known Ohio Sen. Rob Portman all under high consideration. But Christie might be too big to ignore.
They say size doesn’t matter. Maybe it does.