Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is Chief of Fitness a Bad Title for Obama?

Below is an article I recently wrote for the kick-ass site, You can read more of my articles here.

Obama BasketballObama is one fit dude. Possibly the fittest president we’ve ever had. With one-third of America’s current population classified as obese, another third classified as overweight, and almost one fifth of all kids under 19 overweight, it’s about time we had a national example of fitness set for all Americans.

Not that Bush didn’t do his part. Maybe we were all too hung up on his unpresidential use of language (misunderestimate?) to realize he actually passed a Physical Fitness Initiative in 2002 that urged Americans to be physically active at least 30 minutes a day.

Bush replaced a running regimen with cycling after tearing the meniscus in his knee, famously going for long rides with none other than cycling great, Lance Armstrong.

But in a collective obsession with deriding everything Bush did, regardless of potential for good, journalists shot Bush’s health streak down. LA Times columnist Jonathan Chait said “Bush has an obsession with exercise that borders on the creepy…Given the importance of his job, it is astonishing how much time Bush has to exercise.” And asked the question, “Does the leader of the free world need to attain that level of physical achievement?”

These sound like the words of a non-believer. In exercise, that is. Instead of regarding Bush as setting a good example for a nation of rapidly expanding waistlines, journalists wrote Bush’s healthy habits off as somehow making him “unfit” for office.

So will Obama, a noted fitness fanatic (minus the occasional cigarette), fare any better in the eyes of the press? Only 3 days into office, it’s not PC to mock the man whose image alone has inspired an entire nation.

This begs the question: would Obama have risen to such an iconic status so quickly if he had been overweight? Doesn’t it make us feel more comfortable with him as leader of the country knowing that he is first and foremost able to take care of himself?

An story from last December already tried to paint Obama’s fitness and diet regimens as “obsessive”. In a bad way. It makes one wonder if anyone in the one-third of America that is not overweight has a job in journalism.

Obama never misses his daily workout, it was reported. Typically, said Obama, he gets in a 45-minute workout, 6 days a week, switching off between cardio and strength training. The president himself even said he wished he “was getting a 90-minute workout.”Obama on Beach

What follows in the next line of the article? That’s right. The word “obsessive”, accompanied by the fact that one time on the campaign trail, Obama worked out for 188 minutes in gyms in a single day, and played basketball with buddies.

Why wouldn’t we want an obsessive athlete running the country? People who rise to greatness certainly do not do so by being ordinary. Some of the personality perks that habitually come with being a regimented athlete: passion, discipline, confidence, and competitiveness.

While 30-minutes a day of exercise will reportedly lower the risk of heart disease in your average American, it will not put an athlete with a drive for success in the running to be competitive. It takes more than that.

Imagine if Obama decided to become an Ironman triathlete, exercising 15-20 hours per week. Training for an event like that, with a desire to win, must be compulsive, or else the training required will not be completed.

Americans have so quickly forgotten that humans used to walk all over the place all day long in order to find food, to build shelter with their own hands, etc…We’ve abandoned the walk about part of scavenging for the feast part of what we’ve collected, pre-found for us at our local supermarkets.

To’s credit, they did state briefly that, “Obama's focus on exercise may actually bode well for the country.” Obama himself said that exercise “gives you more mental endurance and more energy to think clearly. For a president, that's not a bad thing."

No it is not.

Perhaps these attacks on Obama’s venerable health regimen are actually journalists’ misplaced disappointment with themselves for not playing the life-long fitness game. Or a lack of “angle” for their stories, so they revert to the tried (since Jimmy Carter’s famed 1979 10K collapse), “this guy is an exercise freak” angle. Never mind that the attitude that brought Carter to collapse—“I’ve got to keep trying”—is exactly the attitude we want in a leader.Jimmy Carter Running

Perhaps it’s time Americans and the American media began praising our current and past presidents’ “obsession” with health and fitness, attributing a positive connotation to the word “obsession” itself. Because Obama’s fitness routine is standard in the realm of competitive amateur athletes. And because we wouldn’t want someone without a drive for excellence—in everything he does—running the country.

Maybe it’s time we stepped up to Obama’s game instead of trying to bring him down to ours.

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