May 24, 2004,
So, we find ourselves in a society where the American president must not only be telegenic, but athletic, and frankly, it was only a matter of time.
This is a country, after all, in which an aging Baby Boomer is as likely to possess a heart-rate monitor as a toaster oven. The electorate not only knows its cholesterol level, but considers it appropriate dinner conversation. The Boomers, who spend so much time crouched in vaguely obscene positions over their inflatable exercise balls, demand physical perfection of themselves, even more so of their leaders.
Which is why John Kerry will lose.
Despite his campaign's frantic efforts to portray Kerry as the quintessential American jock, the candidate's selection of sports snowboarding, windsurfing, ice hockey does nothing to bolster that image. Windsurfing is something the typical American may do for an hour on a two-week vacation at Myrtle Beach; you don't build a fitness program around it.
Conversely, George W. Bush is an athlete, albeit an adult-onset one. He runs 6-minute miles, bench-press 200 pounds, chops wood out on the ranch. Heck, he's been on the cover of "Runner's World." Unlike Kerry's, the president's workouts are actual periods of elevated heart rate and significant exertion, not orchestrated photo ops. The president doesn't exercise for the benefit of the press corps.
Kerry said as much himself over the weekend when he heard the president fell off his bike. "I hope he's OK.... I didn't know the president rode a bike." (He also reportedly said thank you, Drudge Report, "Did the training wheels fall off?" But we'll leave that alone. There's quite enough to work with without it.)
Of course you didn't, Senator. But we understand your surprise. In your world, where you get a trial run down the ski slopes before the photographers are invited along, it's hard to envision someone sweating and panting for the pure physical joy of it all. That's what the president does, and why his resting pulse rate is somewhere around 45 beats per minute... a lot closer to professional cyclist Lance Armstrong's resting pulse than that of the senator from Massachusetts.
Of course, that's only speculation. We don't acturally know John Kerry's heart rate, because he won't release his full medical records. Search "John Kerry" and "medical records" on the Internet, and you get a statement from his campaign detailing his medical condition...in the 1960s. Weirdly, it has something to do with Vietnam. Imagine that.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post did its part to try to convince us that Kerry's a natural-born athlete with a March 28 piece entitled "A Fit Kerry Dogged by Medical Questions." Problem is, the article does nothing to convince us that Kerry is actually fit. In fact, it details a string of physical complaints that dog the candidate, ultimately "precluding more frequent and vigorous workouts."
So, we're to accept that Kerry is a magnificent physical specimen, or would be, if only he were able to work out, but he can't really, because of all of his aches and pains.
Meanwhile, the president is out pedaling his mountain bike so hard that, when he fell Saturday, on mile 16 of a 17-mile ride, he scraped his chin, upper lip, nose, right hand, and both knees. The Secret Service offered to drive him back to the house. The president, it was reported, "declined and finished his ride."
Of course, even in our health-obsessed society, it's no crime to be unfit...after all, one-third of American adults are obese. And we're an empathetic nation. If Kerry has some minor health problems that preclude vigorous workouts whether from prostate cancer (which we know he has had) or Agent Orange Americans will understand, if he will just own up to them. Instead, he insists on demonstrating his athletic prowess and how fetching he looks in bike shorts.
In the Washington Post article, Kerry spokesman David Wade says his boss is "not exactly the kind of guy whose health is a question mark;" ironic, since without the release of full medical records, Kerry's health is very much a question mark.
Wade goes on to call Kerry "the most athletic, most vigorous guy in the race." If true, that would be pretty amazing, given that in a recent physical, Bush ranked in the top-two percent of men his age in cardiovascular fitness.
If Kerry can top that, I hope he'll represent us in Athens.
But somehow, I don't think that he can. The proof of Bush's athletic superiority, ironically enough, is evident in of all things his tumble.
When Kerry fell while snowboarding a few months ago, he famously said, "I don't fall" before blaming a Secret Service agent for running into him.
The truth: Athletes fall, Mr. Kerry. They trip, they stumble, they are sacked. They fall off their horse, they get hit by a ball, they twist their ankles, bruise their elbows, and dislocate their shoulders, but they get up and ride back to the ranch. The real jock knows this and is not embarrassed by the occasional tumble. In fact, he knows that bruises and casts are tangible proof that he's giving his all: Witness the runner hobbling down the street with one or both knees swathed in bandages.
Our president the true jock allowed himself to be photographed soon after his spill, unashamed of the scrapes on his face. Bush does fall, just like Kerry, but the president does so with class. And whatever you think of Bush's policies, there's no arguing with 14.5-percent body fat.
Jennifer Nicholson Graham, an NRO contributor, is a writer in Virginia.