Vail Daily column: A portly president? Why not?
Ryan Summerlin March 5, 2013
Article Two of the United States Constitution provides for the executive branch of government. Clause I holds that “The executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years.”
Clause 5 provides that “No person except a natural-born ctizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of president; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of 35 years, and been 14 years a resident within the United States.”
Clause 6 provides for succession in the event of a vacancy or presidential disability; “In case of the removal of the president from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the vice president, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the president and vice president, declaring what officer shall then act as president, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a president shall be elected.”
You will note in all of this, there is nary a breath about the height, sex, skin color, religion, stature, intellect or … girth of a president.
Recently, Connie Mariano, a physician who used to work at the White House, and who once helped Bill Clinton shed 30 pounds, suggested that the outspoken New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, was too darn fat to run for president. While the governor admits he has always struggled with his weight, should his girth exclude him from the nation’s highest office?
A little perspective is in order.
Exhibit A: William Henry Taft, our 27th president, who at 6 feet even, tipped the scales at a hefty 332 pounds. The father of our country, the esteemed Gen. George Washington, is said to have weighted a sturdy 200-plus pounds. In the modern age, Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Warren G. Harding and Lyndon Johnson all tipped the scale at more than 200 pounds. In fact, in the last 30 presidential elections, the bigger fellow won 21 times (there were two “tie,” by weight at least: The 1904 contest between Teddy Roosevelt and Alton B. Parker and in 1916 in the race between Woodrow Wilson and Charles C. Hughes).
And if Christie’s girth (despite what he contends is his excellent overall health) should be an issue, shouldn’t Hillary Clinton’s history of blood clots also be fair play?
Our present commander in chief is our 43rd president. While it is often said that President Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States, he is, however, only the 43rd different person to serve as president, due to the fact that Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms and so was both the 22nd and the 24th president. Of that lot, eight have died in office, a whopping 18.6 percent!. Your odds of surviving the Normandy invasion were better. Of the eight who have died in office, half were, sadly, assassinated (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy). The other half succumbed to natural causes. William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, died of pneumonia a month after taking office (the apophrycal story goes that after delivering the longest inauguration speech in our nation’s history – a whopper at near two hours – on a cold and blustery January D.C. morning, Old Tippecanoe “caught his death of cold,” earning the distinction as our shortest-served president). Our 12th president, Zachary Taylor, died of cholera. Although there remains some controversy about it, it appears our 29th president, William G. Harding, who lived the fat-filled, tobacco-infused, alcohol-drenched life of the early 20th century, died of a stroke. Our 32rd, Franklin D. Roosevelt, died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Besides the nearly 20 percent who have died in office, let’s take a quick look at our own “Ail to the Chief”; what about presidential illnesses?
Washington suffered famously from painful dentures (when he assumed the presidency, he had but one of his natural teeth). John Kennedy more quietly suffered from Addison’s disease. He was also addicted to pain killers and anti-anxiety medications. Little known at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to be elected for more than two terms, owing to polio, was a paraplegic and largely confined to a wheelchair. During the latter part of his presidency, Ronald Reagan began to display the early effects of the Alzheimer’s disease which ultimately took his life. He suffered too from multiple skin lesions, urinary tract infections, TMJ disorders and, of course, took time out to recover from his would-be assassin’s bullet.
Andrew Jackson suffered from rotting teeth, chronic headaches, failing eyesight, bleeding in his lungs, internal infection, and pain from two bullet wounds sustained in two separate duels. Grover Cleveland suffered throughout his life with gout, and nephritis and while in office secretly underwent cancer surgery for a tumor in his jaw. Taft had high blood pressure and heart problems. In his second term, Woodrow Wilson (a former governor of New Jersey) suffered a series of debilitating strokes that left him paralyzed on his left side, blind in his left eye, and wheelchair bound. Remarkably, the White House kept his condition secret. For at least some period of time, his wife, Edith, acted as the de facto president of the United States.
Harding suffered a myriad of mental problems and once spent time in a sanitarium to regain his mental health. Eisenhower had a heart attack in office. During his term, he also suffered a stroke and had surgery for Crohn’s disease.
If you add ’em up, our presidents have not been a particularly healthy lot.
So should Gov. Christie’s heft become a weighty issue in the next election? For me, at least, I’d rather judge on competence. And whom his running mate may be.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his e-mail addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.