Fit to Bike, Fit to Serve?

One of our president’s most salient characteristics, other than his strong moral principles, is his devotion to fitness. Throughout his presidency, journalists have profiled George Bush’s non-traditional schedule (for a president at least), noting that Bush often works close to an eight-hour day with a long lunch break (so that he could exercise). Recent accounts have president Bush meeting with John Roberts to ask him about his fitness regimen before nominating him for the highest court in the land, bristling that Roberts was not following a physician's advice to substitute cross-training for jogging to save Roberts’ knees. This spring, reporters profiled the president’s Ipod playlist so that the public would get a better idea of exactly to what Bush rocks out whilst tearing it up on his mountain bike. More famously (at least in my neck of the woods), it was revealed after a plane scare at the White House this May, that while the evacuation procedures were underway at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the president was happily biking in the Patuxent Research Refuge in suburban Maryland (in a section not open to the public). The Secret Service detail protecting Bush did not stop the president to inform him of the situation at the White House, which took place around noon on a Wednesday. (As an aside, local columnist Marc Fisher pointed out the irony of Bush recreating in a refuge whose funding he was slashing). The WP also scored a picture of the president returning to his residence that afternoon to learn of the incident, while grasping a copy of the juicy novel I am Charlotte Simmons.

Of course, Bush’s detractors use his famously light schedule as another excuse to skewer him, while the GOP faithful claim that it reflects Bush ability to effectively delegate and to set an example of fitness for a fattening America. As for me, I’m not sure that the president is the best person to lead the fitness charge. After all, as much as voters value a politician’s ability to connect with ordinary citizens, we would never truly want an everyman in the office (we’re not exactly in danger of that happening – Bush and Gore were both sons of politicians, and Bush, Gore, and Kerry were all silver spooners). I don’t think that Clinton’s heart problems were solely the result of his love of McDonald’s, nor do I think that Franklin Roosevelt died solely from Rheumatism. The truth is that the Presidency kills (let’s not forget the more obvious examples of Kennedy, Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) – that’s part of the sacrifice of public service. True dedication to the job and to the country would take an enormous amount of energy, and an enormous toll on any man. Just look at photos of any president by the time that he leaves office, and you’ll see that responsibility and stress that it imparts on Commander-in-Chief must surely shorten life. In other words, the president can do more for his country by dedicating himself to his job than by showing the world another example of a healthy lifestyle. There are already more effective fitness gurus-turned-politicians, and politicians-turned-fitness gurus. Besides, the Body Fat Lab website shows no correlation between the body mass index and the success of a president (fans of Grover Cleveland already knew this, to be sure).

I think that president Bush’s five-week stint at his Texas Ranch shows that he is not about to change his lifestyle and/or workout schedule, regardless of the state of America or the world (this habit was first skewered, fairly effectively, by Michael Moore. While his documentary was mostly shrill, the footage of Bush urging the world to fight “terrorist killers” whilst on the golf course was effective, because it used Bush’s own words). It seems to me that Bush has never demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice personally for the sake of his country. I’m sure that Bush supporters will disagree with me here, but while that attitude may be fine for some of us, it shouldn’t be common among our leaders, and can’t be prevalent among our citizens. If so, we’ll have a harder and harder time finding soldiers to populate our military, politicians to stand up for principles, and citizens willing to pitch in for the national interest. In short, I believe that Bush’s interest in fitness is a selfish one, the same kind of attitude the stifled the patriotic feelings Americans felt in 2001, when were informed that patriotism meant shopping in our malls, not volunteering for public service. Think about that while you work this summer, and while your president is clearing brush from his ranch.


Blogger Tri-Cup said...

I just found a similar critique of the country’s inability to sacrifice in our current struggles, tracing the problem to president Bush's lack of commitment to his own causes. Bruce Reed’s comments over at Slate may be better written and more concise than mine, but I did publish my thoughts 90 minutes before him. That should count for something . . .

Monday, August 08, 2005  

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