Gore ’08: Does He Round Up or Down?

The Washington Post Sunday - - Style - By Srid­har Pappu

From his Os­car ac­cep­tance speech to his transcontinental jaunts to lec­ture about the dan­gers of global warm­ing, Al Gore is back. A man whose en­dorse­ment was deemed toxic dur­ing the last pres­i­den­tial cam­paign (Howard Dean re­ceived the bless­ing), he has reemerged as part of the pop­u­lar con­ver­sa­tion, a man to take se­ri­ously.

Yes, we’ve cer­tainly seen a lot of Al Gore lately. And there’s a lot of Al Gore to see. Call­ing Planet Girth!

There seems to be no quench­ing the spec­u­la­tion that he still yearns to be pres­i­dent. But how can we tell for sure? To hear some pun­dits tell it, we’ll know when he goes on a diet.

“Al Gore is think­ing se­ri­ously about [run­ning],” for­mer CBS an­chor Dan Rather said re­cently on “The Chris Matthews Show.” “He’s be­gin­ning to lose weight—”

“I hear he’s made a com­mit­ment to a friend for a crash

course to lose 40 pounds right away,” Matthews said, in­ter­rupt­ing (of course).

“Well,” Rather said, “the pros­e­cu­tion rests, your honor.”

Gore’s 2000 cam­paign chair­man, Donna Brazile said, while speak­ing to stu­dents at Mo­ra­vian Col­lege in Jan­uary, that she fore­saw a cam­paign an­nounce­ment if he dropped 25 to 30 pounds for his Os­car night de­but.

Whether Gore runs or not, the at­ten­tion paid to his waist­line brings up a larger ques­tion: Why can’t a fat per­son be pres­i­dent? Ex­am­ine the cur­rent field of con­tenders in both par­ties. They may not all be as svelte as Barack Obama, but not a sin­gle one could fairly be de­scribed as cor­pu­lent. Is av­oir­du­pois the fi­nal taboo?

Look­ing for an­swers, we first turned to Men’s Health Ed­i­tor in Chief David Zinczenko, whose un­godly good looks have made him a morn­ing­show reg­u­lar and a walk­ing bill­board for his mag­a­zine. Zinczenko, in a Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel­like ex­pla­na­tion, said, “In a tribe, they gauge the al­pha male’s dom­i­nance by phys­i­cal prow­ess. We’re not that re­moved from our an­i­mal selves.

“Phys­i­cal fit­ness, and es­pe­cially aer­o­bic fit­ness, are tightly tied with intelligence,” the abs guru con­tin­ued. “There are stud­ies that show a di­rect link be­tween fit­ness and men­tal en­ergy, fit­ness and ef­fi­ciency, fit­ness and lead­er­ship. The phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion im­presses oth­ers be­cause they know that a fit man is a sharper man.”

Still, there is some prece­dent for a pres­i­dent who couldn’t pass the Pres­i­dent’s Phys­i­cal Fit­ness Test. Namely, William Howard Taft (19091913), the only man to serve as both com­man­der in chief and Supreme Court chief jus­tice. Dur­ing Taft’s ten­ure, he’s said to have weighed around 300 pounds.

Of course that was be­fore television, be­fore the dreamy-look­ing John F. Kennedy (who tightly guarded his own phys­i­cal mal­adies), and long be­fore then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee lost 105 pounds in 10 months and used it as a spring­board for his cur­rent pres­i­den­tial run. Bill Clin­ton had his mod­est pudge — al­though, ac­cord­ing to his for­mer lead strate­gist James Carville, “he had this McDon­ald’s thing and he liked ta­males, but I just don’t re­call us say­ing, ‘We need him to knock off five or seven pounds.’ ”

Leav­ing im­age ques­tions aside, there would be prac­ti­cal rea­sons for Gore — who fin­ished the 1997 Marine Corps Marathon in 4:58:25 and once penned a phys­i­cal fit­ness col­umn in a 2000 is­sue of Men’s Health — to lose that weight. Pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns are phys­i­cally tax­ing, de­mand­ing long hours on the road and in the air. They re­quire a can­di­date, at each event, to go all out, as Joe DiMag­gio did, be­cause, as he said, the per­son watch­ing might be see­ing him for the first time.

“Any­body that’s been on the cir­cuit knows how phys­i­cally gru­el­ing it is,” said Demo­cratic Party strate­gist Steve Jard­ing. “They have ex­er­cise pro­grams not to look good but to pre­pare for the rig­ors of the cam­paign trail.”

“Ev­ery­body has to watch it,” Carville said of cam­paign­ing. “It’s all bad food on the run. It’s like Al Gore re­leas­ing a movie, with all the re­cep­tions and galas. I saw him in Paris, and I’m sure they fed him pretty good over there.”

Gore now al­most seems a per­fect coun­ter­weight to Obama and John Ed­wards. There are mo­ments where one fears that if Obama were to lose any weight he’d be on the cover of Us Weekly with Lind­say Lo­han. En­ter, then, the Ro­bust Gore, who, in Huck­abee fash­ion, could shed those pounds as a sign of his de­vo­tion to a cause, the phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of some­one who wanted some­thing done and then went ahead and did it.

“Could Al Gore win the pres­i­dency at his cur­rent weight?” Carville said. “Yes, he could. But a lot of things have to fall into place for him. First, he’s gotta run. That’s kind of a re­quire­ment. . . .

“For a guy who peo­ple say needs to be hu­man­ized, there’s noth­ing to make you more hu­man like a diet. Noth­ing would make you more hu- man than eat­ing let­tuce and vine­gar for lunch. Ev­ery­one could re­late to that.

“But let’s be fair to Gore,” Carville con­tin­ued. “He’s over­weight, but know­ing him and his Al Gore and wife Tip­per, above, kept trim while in of­fice. But William Howard Taft, at left in 1930, who was the only man to serve as pres­i­dent and chief jus­tice, is said to have weighed about 300 pounds. wife, I wouldn’t be sur­prised if he lost 15 pounds or so. And I think if peo­ple thought he could get us out of the mess we’re in with Iraq, they wouldn’t care how fat he is.”


Al Gore, liv­ing large th­ese days af­ter his movie won an Os­car, may step up to the plate to run for pres­i­dent next year.



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