On Monday this week, Gov. Chris Christie stopped by the “The Late Show with David Letterman” to chat with the famous funnyman. Letterman’s fat jokes at Christie’s expense have become routine on the show, so the encounter with the pugnacious New Jersey Republican was surefire comedic gold. It didn’t disappoint.

Christie took Letterman’s ribbing well and even did some self-deprecating humor, merrily chomping on a donut during the interview to roars of audience laughter. Everyone laughed and Christie shined, earning praise from sources as unlikely as Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. It was a cultural event in a culture more defined by what happens on Letterman rather than at the statehouse.

It did leave a curious thought for consideration though. Are fat jokes — the source of so much pain for too many kids — really still acceptable in our culture? Christie himself works hard to be laughing with the crowd rather than laughed at — and he seems to do it pretty well. But the school administrators, counselors, and parents who care for bullied kids across the country usually are not so lucky.

There are some standard answers to the question: “well, he is laughing too so that makes it okay!” Or “he’s a public figure. He’s putting himself out there.” Both points are standard fare in the bully’s handbook and are usually dismissed as quickly as they are made. So why is an exception made in Mr. Christie’s case?

Letterman, for his part, took the opportunity to inquire about Christie’s health, pointedly asking whether he was currently on a diet. Christie rolled with the conversation, assuring Dave that he is the “one of the healthiest fat guys you’ve ever met.”

“Late Night” is a comedy show but on closer inspection, the line of questioning isn’t a laughing matter because of their clear implication: “Why don’t you do something about being so fat, Chris Christie? Don’t you know you are going to die if you don’t?” The queries were asked amid laughter but the mix of pity and disdain was unmistakable. Why?

The reason that fat jokes are “okay” and pity/disdain is prevailing sentiment is because Chris Christie is not the usual caricature of a conservative Republican. 

Liberals tend to explain opposition to their ideas in one of two ways: conservatives are either mean or ignorant. The problem with Chris Christie is that he conflicts with this narrative. He is surely confrontational when he wants to be, but how could that man jovially laughing with Dave Letterman be mean? And while you may not agree with him, few allege Christie is a fool.

Conservative Republicans are supposed to look like Mitt Romney — rich, slick, and seemingly perfect in every way. Mr. Romney’s “47%” comments were for liberals a confirmation of the narrative and a tidy encapsulation: meanness and ignorance all in one short video. Middle America agreed.

Mr. Christie though is palpably different from Romney. He is gritty, blunt, and real. Christie is the post-partisan figure that Romney should have been, walking on the storm-shattered beaches of New Jersey with President Obama or publicly berating House Republicans for their myopia in the face of crisis.

When the liberal narrative breaks down, there is nothing left to do except to mock him or take pity on him.

The correct approach is the same one that won’t be taken by too many of Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy’s critics amid the current winter storm. Many will take to Twitter or Facebook to poke at Governor “umms and ahhs” during his numerous press conferences. They should not.

Gov. Malloy has earned plenty of criticism. His economic development policy of giving millions of dollars to billionaires, including the state’s richest man, is deeply misguided. He takes credit for a “12 percent decrease in energy costs” even though he imposed a new energy generation tax worth $70 million and his most recent budget extends this “temporary” tax for two more years. Any price decreases have been despite Mr. Malloy, not because of him, unless he is secretly fracking underneath the governor’s mansion. 

On these issues and most others, Gov. Malloy is fair game. The fact that he thinks and talks at the same time on live statewide television should not be.

Criticize Christie and Malloy because you believe they are wrong, not because of how they look or talk. You’ll be improving the policy debate and the culture at the same time.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com

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