Political Hay

Bent Out of Shape

Why are liberals so exercised by the President's exercise?

By 8.26.05

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There have been a great number of petty and unfair attacks leveled at George W. Bush in the past five years. He's slow witted. He surrounds himself with incompetent "yes men." He's Hitler.

But the pettiest and least fair to date is the charge that President Bush exercises too much. For whatever reason, liberals have developed an obsession with the president's "obsession" with physical fitness.

Last month the New Republic's Jonathan Chait, writing in the Los Angeles Times, castigated President Bush for his "obsession with exercise that borders on the creepy."

"Bush's insistence that the entire populace follow his example, and that his staff join him on a Long March -- er, Long Run -- carries about it the faint whiff of a cult of personality. It also shows how out of touch he is," wrote Chait. "It's nice for Bush that he can take an hour or two out of every day to run, bike or pump iron. Unfortunately, most of us have more demanding jobs than he does."

The Democratic National Committee similarly attacked the president for spending too much time exercising and not enough on public policy.

On every other page of every other newspaper, meanwhile, you will read about our nation's "obesity epidemic," followed by calls for emergency remedies ranging from class action lawsuits against fast food companies to crackdowns on vending machines in public schools. Some might think a physically fit president would serve as a good role model for America's youth, especially in light of the rapid decline in the quality of our heroes from the world of professional sports.

Paradoxically, while Chait and others ridicule the president for being too active, other liberals have attacked him for relaxing too much. President Bush's vacation habits have become another bizarre obsession among the political Left. Speaking as a guest on the Imus in the Morning show earlier in the week, for example, Howard Fineman railed against the president's "almost religious devotion to his vacation time."

But President Bush doesn't vacation in the same sense that you or I do. He doesn't unplug all of his appliances and toggle the Out of Office AutoReply on his Outlook. He's working. He's just doing it in Texas instead of Washington, D.C.

Time was our nation's sophisticated opinion leaders wouldn't dream of scrutinizing the president's personal life. For example, it was considered bad form to question what President Bill Clinton did in the privacy of his own bedroom -- even though he did it in the Oval Office and while punched in on the taxpayers' time clock. And oh yeah, he was married and doing it with an intern.

Didn't matter. It was none of our business. But put in a little too much roadwork or clear a little too much brush at your ranch and you give people like Jonathan Chait the creeps.

Come to think of it, I seem to recall the mainstream media used to delight in showing us almost constant footage of President Clinton jogging, jogging, always jogging; him with his amoeboid torso, pale, toneless legs and duck-footed stride, the press with tongues wagging and elbows jabbing one another.

Wasn't he dreamy?

And what about John Kerry? I mean, who had time to windsurf and toss the pigskin during "the most important election in our lifetimes," anyway? Who can hunt ducks during "the worst economy since Hoover," and while Iraq makes Vietnam look like Granada? Unless, of course, Kerry just did all that stuff for show. And Clinton, too. You think?

Well, of course they were just doing it for show. And that's the point. All the sophisticates want is a show. Put on some trendy jogging shorts and the latest Nikes and we'll take the shot. Don't worry, we'll edit out the Golden Arches in the background. But if we ever catch you breaking a sweat for real without a big media hullabaloo, you'll never work in this town again.

The media doesn't resent George W. Bush because he exercises too much or takes too many vacations. They resent him because he's authentic when he should be artificial, reserved when he should be resplendent.

But if a show is all the media want, I've got just the guy for them. There's this fellow at my gym who makes a big to do about stacking heavy, clanging plates onto the barbell. He stomps around the weight room floor, snorting and huffing, often clapping his hands loudly, sending off plumes of chalk dust while his pals shout out various inspirational plaudits. He's the man, all right. But now that I think of it, I've never actually seen him lift any weights. And he isn't very big.

Maybe he should run for president. The media would love him.

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About the Author

Patrick Hynes is an account executive with the consulting firm Marsh Copsey + Scott and the proprietor of the websites www.passionforfairness.com and www.crushkerry.com.