What would you do if Oprah Winfrey showed up on your doorstep?
Television viewers got to see what that answer was for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey when Winfrey’s network, OWN, ran her
interview with him, taped in the fall at his home in Mendham, N.J.
In some ways, Christie did not seem much different than the average person – at least when it comes to Oprah. As the icon, and prominent Obama supporter, walked up the porch steps, the door opened and the governor and his wife, Mary Pat, greeted her with big, welcoming smiles.
Then they gave her a little tour of the house. When they arrived at the kitchen table, the four Christie children were sitting there quietly … reading. Now, let’s face it, there is probably not a family in America whose children sit at a table reading quietly with no computers, cellphones or video games in sight. But if Oprah were coming over, wouldn’t we stow the gadgets, put the kids into nice clothes and make sure they were quiet and well behaved?
Even when it came time for the interview, Christie couldn’t keep from giggling. But when they did at last get down to serious conversation, they talked about their shared experience of being ridiculed by the likes of David Letterman about their struggles with weight. Christie, appearing quite at ease with Oprah, admitted that at a point in his life he was hurt by jokes about his weight. But now he has developed a shell, and he said his wife is more upset by the jokes than he is.
“It didn’t bother you?” Oprah pressed. “Because let me tell you, when David Letterman was making jokes about me, it bothered me.”
Christie responded, “I think I was girded for it, Oprah, I really do.”
That two such accomplished and powerful people would talk about their weight struggles when they sat down together for an interview shows how fat obsessed the world has become. And they clearly were aware of the sensitivity of the topic. Oprah framed her questions by first referring to her own experience as the target of jokes about her body.
And Christie remembered that even as a high school athlete who appeared trim in photos, he felt fat. In essence, they both gave a nod to what has become one of the most acceptable forms of bullying in our society: stigmatizing the overweight and the obese.
Whether taunts on the playground or cheap laughs from comedians, every overweight person has felt the sting. And January, when resolutions for dieting run rampant, is perhaps the time of year when everyone is most weight conscious.
Later in the interview, Christie may have revealed something that the late-night comedians will use for more fodder — that one of the things that made him fall in love with his wife was the spontaneity she showed as a college student when she suggested that they break into the dining hall kitchen one night to sample the doughnuts that were being prepared for breakfast.
When Oprah asked if he had a plan to lose weight, he said he was working with a dietitian and a personal trainer and was making progress. But the governor and the television star agreed that they both deal with compulsive eating.
“It is my drug of choice,” Oprah said of food.
Christie replied, “I think it’s probably something similar for me.”
On politics, the Republican governor did not just follow the party line with Oprah. “Those who underestimate Barack Obama underestimate him at their own peril,” Christie said, adding that the president is one of the best campaigners he has ever seen but that he was not as good at governing.
As for his own presidential aspirations, Christie didn’t rule out running in 2016, and his wife said she could picture their family living in the White House.
Once the formal interview was concluded, Oprah and the Christies returned to the kitchen table, where the Christie children were apparently still reading. As Oprah asked about such things as whether they had wanted their father to run for president or whether they had chores around the house, the governor stood by hovering over the chairs of his two daughters.
When Oprah asked 15-year-old Sarah Christie about her parents forbidding her from having a Facebook page, the governor couldn’t resist pointing out that Mark Zuckerberg, co-creator of Facebook, had backed them up on that decision.
Yet when Oprah asked when Sarah might be allowed to have a Facebook page, Christie said, “Next year might be the year,” drawing a surprised expression from his daughter.
The final segment ended, Christie gave Oprah a big hug. … and who would have let her leave without doing that?
Carla Baranauckas is a freelance editor and writer who has worked at the New York Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, the Edwardsville (Ill.) Intelligencer, the Texarkana Gazette, the Pampa (Texas) News and the Minneapolis Tribune. Follow her on Twitter at @cabara.