New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision to undergo gastric band surgery is something that should engender sympathy for him from most Americans. In a country that is divided between those of us who are overweight and those who worry about that prospect, the Republican star’s struggle with obesity is the sort of thing that humanizes a tough-as-nails politician. We should also be prepared to take him at his word that his choice to take this step was about his health and the future of his family rather than in making him a more marketable presidential candidate in 2016.
But when Christie told a press conference today that he kept the news of his surgery secret since February because it was “none of your business,” he was dead wrong. The health of governors and potential presidential candidates is very much the public’s business.
The Christies, like all political families, are entitled to more privacy from the press and the public than they get. But that right to privacy does not extend to details about the office-holder’s health, especially when it comes to surgery.
As a man running for re-election to the governorship of New Jersey as well as a highly touted prospect for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, anything that might impact his ability to carry out the duties of his office should be a matter of public record. While the all-consuming nature of the 24/7 news cycle has created an intrusive, even prurient taste for extraneous details about the lives of our politicians, information about serious health problems are not gossip. It’s not just that the grueling pace of the campaign trail really is a threat to the health of someone with a serious weight problem, but that a person who aspires to the presidency can’t have medical secrets.
Whatever impact his surgery has had on his weight and his health—and I pray that it proves beneficial for the governor and helps prolong his life—it clearly has not altered his irascible personality. Many of his fans find the sort of brusque in-your-face contempt for those who question him to be part of his charm, and perhaps it is a refreshing change from the milquetoast, content-less palaver we hear from most of his fellow pols. But he’s wrong to tell the press they have no right to press him about his health. They have every right, and he owes them honest and timely answers rather than his usual invitation to take a long walk off a short pier.