On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Asked by Joy Behar onHeadline News whether America would vote for a “fat” candidate for President, controversial film-maker Michael Moore, who has never been accused of being too skinny, responded that most of America is fat and would probably identify with an overweight Commander-in-Chief.

Historical note: There have been a number of chunky Presidents. William Howard Taft had a 54-inch waistline and weighed more than 300 pounds. Legend has it that he got stuck at least once in the White House bathtub installed during the administration of the much thinner Franklin Pierce.


Incidentally, some claim President Millard Fillmore installed the first White House bathtub. You can blame journalist and satirist H.L Mencken, who wrote a fictional history of the bathtub a 1917 article in the daily New York Evening Mail. Mencken recanted his account of the Fillmore tub tale later, saying “My motive was simply to have some harmless fun in war days. It never occurred to me that it would be taken seriously.”

Did Taft really get stuck in the White House tub? There are no official accounts of such an incident. However, courtesy of the website HerodotusWept, here is an account from Ira Smith, correspondence secretary for a number of U.S. Presidents — on the topic of Taft’s weight-loss diet:

One of Mr. Taft’s troubles was food. He loved it, and the more food he could get, the more he loved it. The rub was that after he moved into the White House, his doctor and Mrs. Taft were constantly on the alert to enforce a diet that would get rid of some of his surplus poundage. Mrs. Taft might be reasonably described as a strong-minded woman. She took dieting seriously — for the President — and this led to a lot of talk that in a less famous household might have been called nagging.

The President dieted, all right, but not when he could escape supervision. I remember once when I accompanied him on a journey to Ohio. When we got on the train, leaving the doctor and Mrs. Taft behind, the President began to perk up. He also apparently began to think about food, although it was ten o’clock in the evening. “Anybody seen the conductor?” he asked.

The conductor came a-running.

“The dining car…” Mr. Taft began shyly. “Could we get a snack?”

The conductor looked surprised. “Why, Mr. President, there isn’t any dining car on this train.”

“Where’s the next stop, dammit?” he asked. “The next stop where there’s a diner?”

The conductor believed it would be Harrisburg.

“I am President of the United States, and I want a diner attached to this train at Harrisburg. I want it well stocked with food, including filet mignon. You will see that we get a diner

“What’s the use of being President,” he demanded, “if you can’t have a train with a diner on it?”

Another Taft anecdote:

He once found himself stranded at a country railroad station and was told that the express train would not stop for a lone passenger.He wired the conductor: STOP AT HICKSVILLE. LARGE PARTY WAITING TO CATCH TRAIN.When the train stopped, Taft got aboard and told the conductor, “You can go ahead. I am the large party.”