WASHINGTON -- Well, President George W. Bush has now demonstrated that one can take being health-conscious too far. I think we can all agree that the other night when he was watching that professional football game in the White House residence whilst munching pretzels, he would have been better off washing them down with a proper libation. Miller High Life comes to mind.
Pretzels are best accompanied by beer. I am not suggesting that our teetotal president sit there in the residence knocking back a sixpack, but surely one beer would cause no harm. Bourbons and scotches are too heavy for pretzels, and champagnes are out of the question, but a cool beer would be appropriate and even healthful.
There is now a vast amount of medical evidence that a modest dose of alcohol has many salubrious consequences, particularly for the heart. This is not to say that the president's heart is in need of tinkering, chemical or otherwise. His heart rate during his medical tests last August checked out at 43 beats a minute. Even the morning after he choked on that unescorted pretzel, it was only loping along at 51 beats.
He has what they call an "athlete's heart." Actually it is in amazing tune even for an athlete. I have consulted one of my favorite physicians (an Olympian, by the way), who reminds me that many of our world-champion teammates back in our collegiate swimming days rarely had heartbeats under 50. The president is also an assiduous weight trainer. His bench press is in the neighborhood of 200 pounds. He is probably the most physically fit president ever. So his abstemiousness is probably no threat to his health.
The statistics on his workouts are encouraging. They tell us something about his character. For three decades, we have had politicians faking their devotion to health, exercise and numerous other personal achievements: their book reading, the musical instruments they play, foreign languages, their butterfly collections and love of pets.
Presidents Clinton and Carter were notable bores on the subject of jogging. I always doubted their jogging claims. The Boy President remained pudgy. President Carter actually collapsed during an ill-considered marathon. When he went down, I was reminded of one of my long-standing beliefs. Athletic achievement is difficult to fake. One cannot deceive a stopwatch or, for that matter, a 200 pound barbell looming down on you during a bench press.
Our debonair president is the rare American politician who is also a normal human being. When he told us from the campaign trail that politics was not all-consuming for him, he seems to have spoken the truth. And when he told us he had quit alcohol on his 40th birthday, that too seems to have been the truth. Though I am not so certain teetotalism is so healthy. Another honest president, Harry Truman, was -- like Winston Churchill -- known to take a matutinal shot of whisky. He did it after his regular, very vigorous early morning walks.
The present president also has a very reassuring penchant for humor, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's. Joviality is an American trait. Reagan's jokes after an assassination attempt were genuinely funny and revelatory of his sound character. Bush's jokes after the pretzel incident were funny, too, and suggestive of a composure that I hope he has. His soaring approval ratings will test his solidity as surely as the traps and aspersions of his foes. In this time of serious national challenge, perhaps he has had to rein in his joviality, which is another reason for finishing off the terrorists. We do not want them to banish laughter from the White House.
My favorite joke from the president came late last year, when on a White House receiving line before the Kennedy Center Honors he quipped to President Bill Clinton's pal Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee: "Great to have you back. Just don't steal the silverware." The agelastic McAuliffe sniffed, "I have no intention of doing that, sir." Perhaps, McAuliffe remembered Charles Churchill's Eighteenth Century line, "A joke's a very serious thing."
It is reported that some White House security aides are alarmed because no president is monitored when he is in the residence with the door shut. In the recent past, this would be a constant concern for President Clinton's wife.
Presidents do have at their fingertips what is called a "panic button." When President Clinton rang it, there was the danger that he might be ordering up a pizza. In his day, such orders could portend disaster. The present president has proved that he will not abuse his "panic button." He is a regular guy and a gentleman.