We were riffling our Christmas remainders when we came across a fascinating dichotomy in presidential image-making.
Karl Rove, unofficial founder of the George W. Bush Image Reclamation Society, offers WSJ readers the startling revelation (mysteriously withheld from Ohio voters in '00 and '04) that Bush is way more Brie and way less Cheez Whiz than we all assumed.
Forget the beer, Bush is the kind of guy you'd like to have Camus with. (He read "The Stranger" in '07)
In fact, W's a wide-ranging intellectual who devoured 95 books last year, narrowly losing his annual competition with Rove, who read 110. Over the past three years, The allegedly anti-intellectual chief exec has sped-read Camus, Kearns Goodwin, Philbrick and many, many others. Rove:
It all started on New Year's Eve in 2005. President Bush asked what my New Year's resolutions were. I told him that as a regular reader who'd gotten out of the habit, my goal was to read a book a week in 2006. Three days later, we were in the Oval Office when he fixed me in his sights and said, "I'm on my second. Where are you?" Mr. Bush had turned my resolution into a contest.
By coincidence, we were both reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals." The president jumped to a slim early lead and remained ahead until March, when I moved decisively in front. The competition soon spun out of control. We kept track not just of books read, but also the number of pages and later the combined size of each book's pages -- its "Total Lateral Area."
Ahh, but whose books weighed more?
Then there's the curious case of one Barack Obama, who seems intent on a) shedding the impression that he's the nerdy Adlai Stevenson type b) proving he can out-workout gym-rat Bush.
According to the Washington Post, Obama has exercised at least 48 days in row, often hitting the weights, elliptical and treadmill for as much as 90 minutes a day. It gives him peace, clears his mind -- and he intends to build a b-ball court at 1600, to feed his recreational obsession, much as Nixon bricked up the old swimming pool to put in a bowling alley.
Between workouts during his Hawaii vacation this week, he was photographed looking like the paradigm of a new kind of presidential fitness, one geared less toward preventing heart attacks than winning swimsuit competitions. The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.
Thus, a modest proposal. How's about a pre-inaugural Iron President biathlon, featuring a ten-meter run and ten-page book report on existentialism?