I forgot something important when I put together my outline for Season One of my TV show – a segment about President William Howard Taft. And I was reminded about this in the most unexpected of places, an article called “How Not To Be A D___ To Your Fat Friends.” It’s worth a full read, but here’s the part that caught my attention – it’s right before the author, Marianne, begins her tips on how not to talk about fatness:

You don’t want to be like that friend of mine who went on and on, drunkenly, about how gross it probably would be to have sex with President Taft without realizing that I weigh more than he did when he was President. Right? Right.

I was talking with Marianne about this over email this week, and she very kindly pointed me to a more detailed version of the story, which you can find on her blog, The Rotund. She told about how an artist was painting pictures of herself in amorous moments with each US president, and “of course the immediate joke was Taft.” Which is what reminded me of my idea for the TV show segment: why we only remember Taft today for his weight.

As you can see from the photo above, this theory rings true at Madame Tussaud’s DC, where you can weigh yourself next to a figure of the 27th president – no scales of justice for the president who later served as Chief Justice, just a regular old scale. Now Madame Tussaud’s is entertainment, but this goes deeper than wax museums. I had a book about the presidents as a kid and it made mention about how Taft “munched on salted almonds” throughout his presidency. Almonds. What does that say about how we think about size and success?

Nobody rates Taft as a great president, but you don’t get to be president and Chief Justice of the United States for nothing. So I want to figure out exactly how Taft the prominent public figure became the stuff of stuck-in-the-bathtub jokes.

Also worth asking: why didn’t people focus more on his mustache? I mean, that thing is amazing. Take that mustache, maybe a long black coat and a funky soundtrack and… can you dig it?

William Howard Taft is Shaft

Finally, if you’re not big on the idea of Taft as a cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about, maybe you’d prefer this kindler, gentler, more kid-friendly Taft:

William Howard Taft says "I am for playgrounds"

As the site explains: “Organizations like the Playground Association of America campaigned for public funding for parks and recreation areas as part of progressive reform, arguing that the physical health and social development of youth not only improved the quality of their lives, but benefited society as a whole. President Taft (1909–1913) expressed his support for playgrounds to the third annual congress of the PAA (which would later become the National Recreation Association), May 10, 1909.”

So instead of that scale next to the wax Taft, maybe there should be a swingset, a gavel and a copy of the Isaac Hayes “Hot Buttered Soul” album.