Jonah, that Powerline blogger you link to does make an excellent case that Huckabee’s 110-pound weight loss in a year, and other physical changes are more consistent with bariatric surgery than unassisted diet and exercise. I had wondered about it, but am always happy to believe it is possible to do it without the surgery. From everything we now know about obesity, however, while it is possible to overcome, it is pretty difficult for someone with the dread “fat gene” to keep it off for a long time without constant vigilance. (Indeed, recent pictures suggest that campaign life is taking a toll on his waistline. Or was that just the hunting jacket?)
So, if Huck had the surgery, I for one, would not blame him or think any less of him. (That would be true even if I thought highly of him.) I regard it as a radical but increasingly common solution to a persistent problem. No more or less. Nor do I really think it is anyone’s business, though, like plastic surgery, it isn’t so easy to hide and unless you are exceptionally vain, you will probably be happier admitting it. At least that applies in private life. It’s a different ballgame now that he wants to be president. In that case being honest is warranted, since it is a serious operation, with ongoing health implications.
Even if he did it for pure health reasons, he would have had to consider the fact that his career could not progress without the weight loss, however effected. Because, as is clear, fat is the last taboo in the upper reaches of American power. The days of 300-lb. presidents — Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft — are over, if only because whatever intelligence, wisdom, and energy they might bring to the task, the ubiquitous, angle-loving camera would do them in before they got off the ground. And, in our morally challenged culture, physical fitness is considered a proxy for moral fitness, regardless of the individual truth of the matter, or the general justice of the equation.
In Huckabee’s case, acknowledging the surgery (if true), would also, unhappily for him, deprive him of moral credit for what is, in his own telling, his signal personal accomplishment. He has made much of his victory over the flesh, and spent much time cajoling the population of Arkansas — and the rest of us — to follow suit. His health care policy, for heaven’s sake, is based on having all of us lose weight and get exercise so we don’t need insurance or medicine. If he had the surgery, his preaching is based on a deep deception about the road to health. Not so good.