Monday, August 6, 2007

Four Fat Presidents

As a US-historian-in-training with a healthy gut, I thought I'd give a shout out to a few of our fattest American Presidents. These are not exactly rankings: instead each man's position on the list comes from a rough equation that factors in both his historical importance and his BMI. So, for example, Clinton ranks below Taft both for his indeterminate legacy (it's too soon to really tell) and his relative svelteness compared to Taft. This is also not a definitive list; alternate nominations are welcome in the comments.

1. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. T.R. was a fit fattie with the physique of a middle-aged football coach--thick-necked and dense. He still counts as fat, though; he is undoubtedly the pudgiest man on Mount Rushmore. Roosevelt tops the list for his actual accomplishments. A hero of the Spanish-American War, he gave us the Panama Canal, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Park system. He pulled off numerous diplomatic feats, and became the first American to win a Nobel Peace Prize. He was, on most occasions, an enemy of trusts and a friend to workers. T.R. was also an unabashed imperialist and a leading theorist of scientific racism. Still, the good wins out--the man gave names to the nation's most popular stuffed animal and the nation's most popular condom for anal intercourse. And he graciously aided the people of Africa by considerably thinning the population of big game on the continent.

2. John Adams, Jr. John Adams was a double-chinned douchebag who has recently been overpraised by a handful of book-club biographers. This chubster was a sulky, stubborn, ill-tempered man with a talent for making enemies. (Like many fat boys, Adams surely suffered cruel taunting as a child, and I suspect his need for revenge against his tormentors led to his conception of a monarchical Presidency.) Adams actively sought to criminalize dissent and to scapegoat immigrants, and he tried to pack the federal judiciary with his friends. "His Rotundancy" had some strengths, to be sure. He didn't own slaves, he had keen argumentative mind, and he was a skilled diplomat--both in ensuring Dutch support for the infant republic and avoiding a full-on war with France. But ultimately, Adams is to the Founding Fathers what Chunk is to the Goonies: a grating tag-along with a few moments of usefulness.

3. William Howard Taft. The only real lardass to serve as POTUS, Taft earned the title of "tubby" when his considerable girth caused him to become stuck the White House bathtub multiple times. (I wonder, how many times do you have to get stuck to consider switching to showers?) His reputation is also weighty--as the only man to serve as both President and Chief Justice, Taft made a large impression on government and politics in early 20th-century America, much like the deep, buttock-shaped crater an obese man leaves on his favorite side of the sofa. True, his actual tenure as POTUS revealed him to be politically tone deaf and led to his humiliating reelection defeat--he only carried Utah and Vermont, making the loss the worst ever experienced by an incumbent President. And granted, on the bench he was a conservative who consistently ruled in favor of big business, executive privilege, and segregation. But schoolchildren everywhere in this roly-poly land still remember Taft. Cause he was fat. Really fat. Like Manatee fat. He was a big boy, is what I'm saying.

4. William Jefferson Clinton. Relating Clinton's fondness for food to his other appetites is a tired cliche, so I would prefer to put his pudginess in historical perspective. If Hillary Clinton becomes President, then Clinton will have adhered to the pattern of fat presidents have unusually large political influence after leaving office. If he becomes the only President to return to the White House as First Gentleman, his legacy will be comparable to TR's run for a third term, Taft's tenure as Chief Justice, and the Adams family dynasty. Perhaps there is a genuine trend here. Apparently fat men take to the halls of power like they take to an all-you-can-eat buffet. It's not easy to kick them out.

5 comments:

Akshay said...

Wasn't Grover Cleveland really big? I think I remember him being much bigger than Clinton, who slimmed down rather severely during the Lewinsky affair (the white-haired half-exhausted looking Clinton is the one that tends to pop into my mind). And if I remember 11th grade history correctly, didn't Cleveland also have a sex scandal involving an illegitimate child?

Drew said...

Yes, Cleveland was a porker, as was Chester Arthur. Big ole gilded age guts.

And, to further my pattern, Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms, making that the ultimate post-presidency comeback.

Rene said...

Drew leaves us much to ponder...political legacies, neologisms, and near innumerable synonyms for "fat."

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Mark said...

Mark Davis,MD
platomd@gmail.com
Do porkers make bad presidents? History reveals these corpulent souls were excellant leaders. Perhaps Christy would also follow their lead. Fat bodies do not mean fat brains. Author of the Millenium Diet.