Should Christie Lighten Up Over Doctor's Concern?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie isn't laughing about his weight anymore. After poking fun at himself earlier this week, he ended up telling a former White House doctor to "shut up," when she commented on his size. Did he overreact? The Barbershop guys weigh in.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Republican strategist R. Clarke Cooper. He's also an Army Reserve captain.

JIMI IZRAEL: Coop.

MARTIN: And NPR political editor, our Political Junkie, Ken Rudin. All of them are here in our Washington, D.C. studio. How fun is that? Take it away, Jimi.

IZRAEL: In the place to be. Thank you, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

R. CLARKE COOPER: Yeah, thanks a lot.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: I'm really, really excited to be here.

IFTIKHAR: He took a Xanax this morning.

IZRAEL: Too much, too much, too much.

MARTIN: Which came in the mail.

IZRAEL: Right. Let's get it started. You know, the postmaster general made an announcement this week. The service is cutting most mail deliveries on Saturday. Now, that's good news for people that are sick of catalogs, but bad news if you were hoping for your weekend Netflix movie. Right, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, you know, I don't know if Netflix is covered because the post office says that they'll still deliver packages on Saturday, so I don't know. Does Netflix count as an envelope...

IZRAEL: I don't know.

MARTIN: ...or is it a package?

IZRAEL: I don't know.

MARTIN: But anyway, I think a lot of people know this by now that the post office has been dealing with a huge debt issue for some time, about $16 billion last year, just about $16 billion, and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said that the Saturday changes will take effect in August unless Congress acts to block the move, which could happen because a lot of people are arguing about whether they actually have the authority to do this, so...

IZRAEL: Right. Thanks, Michel. You know, Ken, this is something of a political football. How do you see this playing out?

RUDIN: Well, this has a lot to do with my mail ego, and I think I want to get that right away, but you know something? I know they're talking about politics, but it only makes sense - I mean if they're losing $16 billion a year. I don't know anybody who goes to the post office anymore, anyway, and I don't even remember the last time I anxiously awaited something in my mailbox. I mean, of course, there are a lot of people who rely on these things, but if it'll cut $2 billion - it makes $2 billion in savings, I mean why not? I think making it a political issue doesn't make sense to me.

IZRAEL: Why not? You know, I think there's a good reason. You know, Michel - you know, they're one of the largest employers of people of color in America. You know, it's one of the last places that black people can get a job without having to have a whole lot of - or any - higher...

IFTIKHAR: And brown people.

IZRAEL: ...education, so to me this is going to disproportionately affect people of color, and women, by the way, so I think that's a good reason. You know, I want to see Obama - I want to see the president get involved and do something. I do. Yeah. Right now, because - yeah, I do - because it's disproportionately going to affect people that look like me.

COOPER: But, Jimi, this is...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Coop. Go ahead, Coop.

COOPER: This is bigger than the postal service. This is - we're starting to see the tip of the iceberg on entitlement benefits that are tied to federal service. So DOD, the Department of Defense, is going to be facing this issue. You look at budgets. Budget busters are what - our retirement packages, which everyone's entitled to. People work for those, but you look at benefits for veterans, benefits for civil service, and you know, the postal service is a civil service. That is why they finally had to come and look at the bottom line and say, look, we can't afford seven day - or six day - delivery. We have to do five day because we have to pay out benefits. Those benefits are due to retired postal workers, so...

IZRAEL: So - OK.

COOPER: See, what I'm just saying is that...

IZRAEL: So hold on, Coop.

COOPER: This is just the beginning of what we're going to see being addressed about services from the federal government, and the states and counties have had to do this already.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean, I dig it, you know, but you got - the postal jobs are getting hit. Federal jobs are being hit. Both of these are jobs that a lot of people of color hold, and I don't know, for me it's time for Obama to cape up and do something.

Arsalan, you got it?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean, I think it's interesting that, you know - you hit the nail right on the head, Jimi. You know, a lot of people of color, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, many people that I know...

IZRAEL: Women.

IFTIKHAR: Women.

MARTIN: Immigrants too.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: I mean in this area, you see that this is a way for people who are relatively recent immigrants who do qualify for the work, I mean obviously, to get a rung into the middle class.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: It's steady, consistent work with benefits.

IFTIKHAR: And, you know, I think that, you know, in the last few years, if we have been able to bail out private corporations, you know, the argument could be made that we could bail out something that is a quasi-governmental agency.

RUDIN: But we have been bailing it out. Haven't we been bailing out the post office for years?

IFTIKHAR: Well, but not to the point of solvency. I think that if you're talking about the billions of dollars - you know, they're saying that this would save $2 billion. How about, you know, raising the postage rate?

RUDIN: They do.

COOPER: They do raise the postage rate.

IZRAEL: Keep raising it. You know...

MARTIN: Well, I think it's actually...

IZRAEL: You know, Obama often...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

IFTIKHAR: If I could finish my sentence.

MARTIN: Go ahead. Finish.

IFTIKHAR: What I was trying to say is, you know, you raise it significantly. Raise it to 60 cents or 70 cents for a stamp.

MARTIN: It would be a dollar to cover this deficit. The stamp would have to be a dollar to cover this deficit.

IFTIKHAR: And I think that many people - you know, when I was a teenager in the mid-'90s it was 29 cents and now it's almost 50 cents, so I think that, you know, it's something that many Americans would be willing to do, especially if we would be able to, you know, keep hundreds of thousands of jobs because this would be a staffing thing.

If you're cutting Post Office hours on Saturday's that means that it's going to be less hours for people who work there. I think, you know, these some things that need to be considered.

MARTIN: Can I ask this question? Isn't this a philosophical issue though, about whether the primary role of government is to provide service or to provide employment? Because isn't - because they're not the same. Because those are different policy directives, right? If you say the primary purpose of government is to provide jobs, which is in part about social stability, that's different from saying our primary role is to provide a service.

COOPER: It's service...

MARTIN: Isn't that different?

COOPER: This is where you're going to get into ideological differences.

MARTIN: Yeah.

COOPER: ...but government - the federal government as designed was not supposed to be a jobs program. There were jobs that were developed because services needed to be provided and people were paid for those services, benefits developed over time because - because they were part of what was considered standard or expected. But let's remember that government services are paid for through tax revenue or they're paid for by a direct actual payment for that service. And so there are employment positions that come with that...

MARTIN: Well, I just think it's interesting though, that when you talk about cutting - and I'm not taking a position here, but I'm just saying when you're talking about cutting defense spending, what are the lawmakers in that area do? They talk about jobs. They don't talk about the service they provide. They do somewhat talk about the service they provide but, in fact, even allegedly conservative lawmakers, when it comes to cutting defense spending, what's the first thing they talk about? The jobs.

RUDIN: The bases. The bases.

MARTIN: So there it is, all I'm saying is nobody's clearly consistent on this issue.

COOPER: There's been a - I mean Ken talks about bases - there's been a BRAC type discussion Base Realignment discussion - with the Postal Service. So before we reach the point where the postmaster general made the announcement of reduction of delivery days, there was already a fight in Congress about the parochial nature of which Post Offices are being closed in my district. And so there's some interesting corollaries of what's happening with the U.S. Postal Service and what we're going to see happening on a bigger scale with the military.

MARTIN: Let me ask you Ken though, where is the public on this?

RUDIN: Well, I kind of think first of all, I mean as they said, I do know people who rely on the Post Office as they used to. And we haven't even mentioned email, the fact that email has replaced a dollar, you know, the thought of putting a dollar stamp on a letter, I don't know anybody who would do that. I mean fewer and fewer people do it. I understand...

IFTIKHAR: I do it.

RUDIN: What?

IFTIKHAR: I do it.

RUDIN: Do you go to the Post Office? You may other things that...

MARTIN: I do.

IFTIKHAR: Yes. Absolutely.

MARTIN: I do.

COOPER: I mail stuff.

IFTIKHAR: I stand in line. I - absolutely.

MARTIN: I do. And also, I manage my mother's - my elderly mother's affairs and, you know, I go to the Post Office all the time to manage her affairs. She's not on email.

IFTIKHAR: And there was...

MARTIN: She's not on email.

IFTIKHAR: The interesting...

MARTIN: I'm not going to send her digital music. I mean I'm not going to the Internet.

RUDIN: But the post office will still be opened on Saturday, you just won't have delivery so you still be able to have those services. That won't change at all.

IFTIKHAR: What was interesting is that there was a poll done to show that seven out of 10 Americans apparently support the stopping of Saturday services, which I found to be an interesting poll.

MARTIN: Which is interesting, and also because unusually, the U.S. is actually unusual with a complex econo - if having six day mail delivery among industrialized systems because most don't.

COOPER: It is unusual.

RUDIN: I remember as a little kid two day - two times...

IFTIKHAR: You were a little kid?

RUDIN: I was.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: He still is. What are you talking about?

RUDIN: In '66, Bill the Conqueror, Billy and I, were, I remember two deliveries a day. How do you like that?

IFTIKHAR: Interesting.

COOPER: Oh. Right. Right. Well, there was also evening news...

IFTIKHAR: Two deliveries.

COOPER: ...there were evening newspapers back then.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: Right. Right.

IFTIKHAR: Milk deliveries.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: And now newspapers are slowly evaporating. So, you know...

RUDIN: The next incarnation of this show will be TELL ME LESS.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Oh, nice. Nice.

RUDIN: It's cutbacks.

MARTIN: Nice. The door is over there. Just thought I...

RUDIN: It's the cutback.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable with writer, Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney, Arsalan Iftikhar; NPR's political junkie, Ken Rudin; and Republican strategist and Army Reserve Captain, R. Clarke Cooper.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, let's move onto a bit of a heavier topic.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has laughed along with a lot - a lot of the fat jokes that people have told about them - including me. He did that on Letterman earlier this week. But he had enough after a former White House who made a serious comment about his size. Michel, we got some tape, yeah?

MARTIN: Yeah, we do. You know, CNN asked Dr. Connie Mariano, she served in the Clinton and both Bush administrations. Actually, she was a guest on this program after she wrote a memoir about that experience. And she was, I don't know if she was asked - I don't remember whether she was asked or she just volunteered her thoughts about the governor's weight. And obviously people are thinking about the governor, who is extremely popular, with a lot of constituencies as a potential presidential contender. And this is what she said.

DR. CONNIE MARIANO: I like Chris Christie a lot. I want him to run. I just want him to lose weight. I'm a position more than I'm a Democrat or Republican, and I worry about this man dying in office.

MARTIN: And for the record, she is actually a Republican. But Governor Christie responded during a press conference on Tuesday. This is what he said.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: My 12-year old son comes to me last night and says dad, are you going to die? I mean, come on. This is irresponsible stuff. If she wants to get on a plane and come here to New Jersey and ask me if she wants me to review my medical history, I will have a conversation with her about that. Until that time, she should shut up.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks, Michel. You know, the doctor struck back. She said it doesn't take a physician to observe that he's overweight. And it's sad that he personally chose to attack her like that but, you know, I'm of two minds on this. First of all, I think he should have put her in her place. It's not really her business to diagnose him on, you know, as a soundbite. I think that was all wrong. But the other piece of this is a serious issue - is a serious issue, he has a right to have these discussions with his family with his own physician and he obviously takes all the good-natured ribbing, you know, in stride. But when you start - when you're on TV talking about he looks like he's about to die, I think that's another level of comment and I think he did the right thing. That's just me.

Ken Rudin, your thoughts?

RUDIN: I agree. It reminded me a little bit when I heard her diagnosis of him, it reminded me a little bit of Bill Frist, who said from afar, remember when Terry Schiavo was that woman on tubes in Florida - the brain-dead woman - who said that she should be kept alive as a doctor. Of course, he didn't examine heard all, you said this as a political point of view. But at the same time, I think if you look at him I mean he should be, I think they have a new show by weight, weight, don't tell me.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: No, but he, but I mean seriously...

IFTIKHAR: Ken Rudin, ladies and gentlemen.

RUDIN: Yeah, thank you very much.

IZRAEL: Badoom, boom.

RUDIN: Take the veal. Try, please, take the veal. You look at somebody like that and your heart goes out for them, but to say that I think you could die in office, I think I agree with you Jimi, completely, that it's taking it a step too far.

MARTIN: Briefly, Clarke.

COOPER: Well, when I was serving Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Huckabee was also serving in Little Rock, and that's when he was about the same size as Governor Christie is today. His role as Governor wasn't impacted by his weight and he lost his weight later. And he has said, since this issue has grown, that look, you know, I lost weight from my own personal health reasons. I didn't do it out for political reasons. Now, maybe he did or didn't, but his guidance or his feedback to Chris Christie is, if you want to lose weight you do it for yourself, you know, don't feel pressured to do it. And look, his approval ratings in New Jersey and outside New Jersey are at an all-time high still, so...

MARTIN: OK. OK. Well put. OK. Arsalan, why don't you weigh in.

COOPER: ...the man can do the job regardless of what his weight is.

MARTIN: Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I totally agree. I think this is the most redonkulous(ph) story of the week. I think that, you know, at the end of the day we have to remember that, you know, President William Howard Taft was about 335 pounds. You know, Warren G. Harding, you know, was overweight, was a diabetic, was a smoker and died while in office. I mean and we as human beings die at any moment. And to say somebody is quote/unquote "too fat" to, you know, hold an office, I think is as repugnant. And as someone...

IZRAEL: But wait a second. All things in, you know, I mean if we're going to comment on Hillary Clinton's ankles or Michel Obama's bottom, I think Christy's waistline...

IFTIKHAR: I don't think anybody here is commenting on ankles or bottoms...

IZRAEL: Not lately.

MARTIN: No, but Jimi's making an important point. The fact is that there are people who have felt that they could comment publicly upon the first ladies figures, particularly Michel Obama. A member - a sitting member of Congress, made a public comment about her figure. OK?

IFTIKHAR: Right. But...

MARTIN: So, so it's - tell me why...

IFTIKHAR: What I'm saying is I don't think anybody has ever said that Hillary Clinton's ankles are too fat to be president of the United States.

MARTIN: But that's not the point. But the fact is if he's running for office, the fact is people are making this valuation of his fitness for office anyway, and I don't mean that in a pun intend - I think that you all make some important points. I mean, why is it that people who are of large size are the last people in America that we are allowed to just comment upon without any...

IFTIKHAR: Right. Mm-hmm. Repercussions.

MARTIN: You know, with no compunction or repercussions.

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Ken Rudin. But despite that...

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: True. Anyway. Anyway. Anyway.

MARTIN: Despite that, if you're running for office people are going to evaluate your fitness for office...

COOPER: Sure.

MARTIN: ...in any metric that they choose. And I think that people do have questions. Go ahead.

RUDIN: I'm having an issue right now of Barbara Jordan, one of the most beloved respected people, male or female, in the history of American politics, she was vastly overweight. I don't remember anybody making a joke about Barbara Jordan's weight.

MARTIN: I don't remember that it was such issue back then. I mean people used to smoke.

RUDIN: It should have been an issue.

MARTIN: But people didn't - people used to smoke. Public officials used to publicly smoke because people didn't realize - or it wasn't discussed - just how significant a health issue it was. And also, I'm just saying, back then people didn't realize what a significant issue, health issue, excess weight could be.

IFTIKHAR: Well, another...

MARTIN: I'm just thinking our awareness of it is different and the job of being president is different from being a member of the House of Representatives. It just is.

RUDIN: He's not president. He's not president.

IFTIKHAR: But the problem...

MARTIN: But that's the context we're discussing.

IFTIKHAR: Michel, the problem with armchair - my father is a doctor. The problem with armchair doctors is that, you know, they have not examined Chris Christie, they don't know his family history, they don't know his medical history. He could be as healthy as a horse on the inside. So to, you know, make an armchair doctor decision from 2,500 miles away is pretty irresponsible.

COOPER: And let's remember what is required and what's not required. I'm the only one sitting here in the Barbershop that has a physical requirement to maintain employment with the Department of Defense. I, each year - in fact, believe it or not, I don't think I look fat. I am fat by Army standards.

RUDIN: Clarke, you're very fat.

COOPER: Yeah. Well, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Yeah, Ken and my colonel agree. But there's this thing called the tape test. You get taped. The tape your neck. They tape your chest. They tape your waist. Chris Christie doesn't have to take a tape test or a weight test to be governor or be president of the United States. And let's remember, the Nats(ph) have just added Taft to the running presidents so we now have five. So, you know, Taft is in.

MARTIN: OK. Well, it's the leading edge of the conversation that's going to have, is going to be had. I'm just saying just being on the real about it. The fact is people are having this debate and he's going to need to face it.

COOPER: Right.

MARTIN: That is just a fact. Just to clarify one point, Dr. Mariano was asked about this. She didn't just raise it, you know, willy-nilly.

COOPER: OK.

MARTIN: Just thought it would be important to point out. Before we let you go, I've got to ask you guys what you think when you hear this song. We don't have too much time to talk about, but here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG," I'LL MAKE LOVE TO YOU")

BOYZ II MEN: (Singing) I'll make love to you like you want me to and I'll hold you tight, baby all through the night.

MARTIN: So that's Boyz II Men. They performed in Russia earlier this week. And some Russian journalists have written that the concert was one of President Vladimir Putin's zany plans to increase the Russian birthrates. So, really, this is just my excuse to ask you all, you know, which is your favorite Boyz II Men song. So Arsalan, I'll start with you.

IFTIKHAR: My favorite Boyz II Men song?

MARTIN: Yeah. Well, or maybe OK, well, how about maybe this way, do I really want to ask this, like what's your favorite, you know...

IFTIKHAR: Romance song?

MARTIN: Yeah. There it is. Thank you. You help me out.

COOPER: It got really quiet in the barbershop.

IFTIKHAR: I know, right?

(LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Well, I guess my favorite romance song would be "Fade into You" by Mazzy Star.

MARTIN: OK.

IFTIKHAR: Because number one, it's called "Fade into You" and number two, it's Mazzy Star.

MARTIN: You got one?

COOPER: Yeah. Mine is from Lady Antebellum. It's "Just A Kiss," and it's a song special my guy who's deployed right now. That's an important song for us. He's back in Afghanistan so it's our song.

MARTIN: Yeah, we're thinking about him. Were keeping a good thought for him. Ken, you got one?

RUDIN: Mine is the theme to NPR's Science Friday.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Jimi, you got one?

IZRAEL: Yeah. I'm a big fan of Massive Attack and I like to remix album, "Massive Attack Vs. Mad Professor." And the cut off it that I really love is "No Protection."

MARTIN: OK. So, well, all right. Well, let's start the weekend off right and we'll play the song "No Protection" on our way out. I can't believe I'm even saying that word. But anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is writer and culture critic. Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor, our political junkie. R. Clarke Cooper is a Republican strategist, a captain in the Army Reserve. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of theMuslimGuy.com - all here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Clarke is not fat.

COOPER: Hoah.

MARTIN: No he's not?

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop Podcast in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO PROTECTION")

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