Thursday, January 10, 2008

What Bush Could (and Should) Have Done

This week, George W. Bush made his first visit as US President to the West Bank.

I'm not sure why he waited till his final year in office to do it, but it got me thinking about what else he could - and should - do in his final year.

He said "I'm a uniter, not a divider." Yet his policies often seem to do anything but unite. Loved by some, they are loathed and derided by others.

But here's something that would most likely be accepted widely, is unlikely to offend, is something of national importance, and seriously, GWB is the most appropriate president to do this. Which is why I can't figure out why he and his advisers have not done it sooner:

A national fitness campaign.

While every administration proudly distributes pictures of the Commander in Chief involved in one sporting activity or other, Bush really is the ultimate fitness fanatic. He once said: "Even when I travel, there's always a treadmill in my room. I have a treadmill on Air Force One. On long trips -- for example, when I went to Europe recently -- I ran for 90 minutes on the flight over there. When I came back from China, I ran on the flight.", in an article entitled George Bush - The Fittest President, reports:

"In January, 1993, he finished the Houston Marathon in 3:44:52 (that's about an 8:30 pace); he's the only president ever to complete that distance.

"...Runner's World...reported his normal routine is to run five or six times a week. "When I run," he said, "I run hard. On Sundays if I'm at Camp David, I'll go for a hard, morning run -- these days about 20:30 to 20:45 for three miles on a tough course." In June, 2002, he ran a three-mile road race in an official time of 20:29 at age 55-years-old.

Good heavenly days.

"Bush also mountain bikes at the Crawford, Texas, ranch, pushing hard for four-hour rides. According to AP reporter Scott Lindlaw, who rode with Bush on a mountain bike, "He (Bush) watches his heart rate very, very closely. He was reporting to me regularly what his heart rate was. ... He likes to exercise in the zone."

Wouldn't a fitness campaign be one thing Bush could do - easily - with loads of credibility?

True, there was his Healthier US Initiative of 2003, "designed to help Americans, especially children, live longer, better, and healthier lives" and encourages taking "steps to improve personal health and fitness." It even inspired a book.

Do you remember it?

I don't, and there's a good chance you don't either.

It's possible the media gave the initiative short shrift because it's not an exciting story, involving guns, oil or money....or one that people would probably ignore. But doesn't the White House have the power to say, look, this is a really important thing - everybody should sit up, pay attention and get moving - Americans just need to be healthier, and we are going to do whatever it takes to help them get there?

Given that we've been told for years now that that Americans don't exercise enough; given that health professionals say this inactivity is the source of many medical conditions, which in turn are straining the country's health care resources - I really wonder why the President didn't seize the opportunity to make this a national priority and, quite possibly, improve his dismal approval ratings.

The case could be made that the healthier we are, the better our economic shape... or that a fit nation is in the interests of national security.

With the analysis of the recent caucus and primary results indicating an exhaustion with partisan politics, fitness is an issue that has the potential to unite people of vastly differing political stripes.

It's not too late for the administration to step on it.