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Hail to the Jock
May 15, 2002
By Joseph Arrieta

Some time last year a quote from Karl Rove stuck in my mind:

"...he's [President Bush] an doesn't matter if this is a long-term problem, he's shown he's got the heart of an athlete to stay with it."

At the time the quote bothered me not for its chronic inaccuracy(Bush is a gym rat with very good athletic potential, but no demonstrated athletic skills, like hitting a baseball) but more for the emphasis on athleticism. Since when does being a first rate jock qualify as a desirable character trait for the Presidency?

A very minor, inconsequential (so I thought) observation that could easily have been made in error. I filed it away in some recess of shadowy neurons and like the rest of the country focused on all the major issues swirling out of Washington, especially after 9/11.

Then last month the results of the latest Bush physical were made public. I never go looking for this stuff, but it was right there on the page, so I read it. Bush is in the shape of his life at 11% body fat and has lost 1.5 collar sizes. Oh?

Yesterday President Bush briefed reporters on the south White House lawn about the new nuclear arms agreement with Russia. His shirt collar was plainly 2 sizes too big. For the reader wondering what possibly relevant point is trying to be made here, stay with me. For a President to appear in ill-fitting clothes is a remarkable event, and how those clothes got to be ill-fitting is a newsworthy story.

I've been at 11% body fat for a few brief, intense periods in my life. Those periods always occurred when for some reason I was not fully employed and a juvenile preoccupation with physical appearance became a high priority (some people work out for pure health, while the egotists just want to look good).

It took 2-3 hours of hard aerobic and anaerobic work every day to get there. Once a month I took a Sunday off. I'd bike and lift upper, run and lift lower, swim and lift middle, run and bike, run and lift upper, bike and lift lower, swim and lift middle, and then start all over again. At least - the very least - 120 minutes a day. I ate incredible amounts of high-caloric foods four times a day and still the fat just melted away to 12% after 120 days.

It's not much fun. It takes a lot of discipline to ignore the lactic burns day after day - there's a huge difference in the burn from a maintenance workout and a hard workout. It takes very good mental focus and energy to push the limits when you're in top shape. After 2-3 hours you're pretty drained of any capability for high energy work, even though you feel good. After a big meal - and another hour for that to settle and for blood sugar to stabilize - heavy mental work would be possible.

I know this because my glory physical days were almost always as a student. I had the time to work out and then had to schedule study time carefully along with my diet, or my brain would just klunk on me in class or over a book.

President Bush is obviously in the shape of his life, and he's just as obviously out of balance. One would always hope that the President take care of himself for the sake of the office with a maintenance workout schedule, but there's scarcely an American alive who expects the President to spend 2-3 hours a day becoming a super jock while on the job.

Why? Because the country and the world should demand a higher priority than jockdom from a President. Energy, trade, environment, taxation, transportation, terrorism - hold on with those briefings books, the President's in the gym.

Maybe this can explain why the President can't pronounce nuclear, sounded like he was drunk introducing a speech the month before, or was trashed in a Washington Post editorial(finally!) this morning for mouthing complete fantasies when signing the Farm Bill. At these times when it's readily apparent to everyone that there is no mental activity going on in Bush's head, the simple explanation very well may be that the President is plain tired or his blood sugar is too low.

Some of us are lucky enough to have humans close enough to us to tell us when we're out of balance, and some of us are smart enough to listen and take corrective action. President Bush is literally surrounded with aides to help him, yet they're obviously blind to his obsession with physical health and even proud of it. They're praising and pushing Bush even farther into it.

How do we know this? From the 2-sizes-too-big shirt collar Bush wore yesterday.

Before appearing on television a President is as carefully made-over in makeup, clothes and hair as any network news anchor. Everything is very closely scrutinized, tweaked, adjusted, pulled into place, and coiffed. It is flat-out impossible for an entire phalanx of aides to miss that ludicrous shirt collar day after day. Of course they haven't missed it, and the reason they've left it in place is because it's become a tangible badge of honor for Bush and his physical health.

My, Mr. President, that shirt collar grows bigger every week! You are so fit! We are so proud of you and so happy to work for you! You go on that bike! You go on that treadmill! What are you bench pressing again? My, my! Isn't the President something!

So the only backup the American people have in keeping a President balanced - his aides and advisors - are feeding Bush's obsession with fitness. The federal budget has gone to hell, the Middle East is a total disaster, Texas Democrats really have a chance this year, there is no drug plan for the elderly, the planet continues to warm, gun violence rages unabated, millions of American children have no health insurance, but golly, Mr. President, just look at that shirt collar. Congratulations!

Don't worry about those pesky issues, Mr. President. You're in great shape.

Joseph Arrieta is a Writer and Web Producer living in San Jose, California.

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