Back In TIME:
Losing The Stomach For Politics
By Calvin Trillin
(TIME, September 8) -- As the citizenry at large grows even larger, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich have both slimmed down. A few months ago, apparently, Clinton began to leave a little something on his plate, not to speak of the plates of the people he was dining with. No longer was it easy to imagine that the arrival of the President of the U.S. at a conference of the leading industrialized nations would cause John Major to whisper to Jean Chretien, "Try not to get seated next to him at lunch if you value your French fries."
It's easy to guess what might have inspired Clinton to lose weight, even at a time when his bum knee made exercise impossible. He knew he was probably going to spend part of August in a borrowed house on Martha's Vineyard, where he could well be caught in the sort of emerging-from-the-surf shot that might have induced a President like William Howard Taft to take his next vacation deep in the north woods, bundled up against the cold.
Being President entails a level of public scrutiny that practically no other citizen has to endure--scrutiny that can change an incumbent's normal inclinations on a question like whether those trousers have a couple more wearings in them before they have to be sent to the cleaners. Somebody is always looking.
When the President has been scheduled to throw out the first ball on opening day of the baseball season, for instance, I often wonder if he's tempted to put in some secret bullpen practice with a catcher whose discretion he could count on--Web Hubbell, maybe--just to reduce the chances that his first attempt to put one over the plate could panic the customers in the box seats behind third base. I wouldn't blame him.
So it's reasonable enough to speculate, I think, that the President was watching what he ate with the thought that he didn't want his vacation on Martha's Vineyard to inspire a lot of Save-the-Whale jokes on late-night television. He was, in fact, photographed emerging from the surf, and he looked nothing at all like William Howard Taft.
It isn't as easy to guess at Gingrich's incentive for cutting down. His main obligation in August was to show up with other potential presidential candidates at the meeting of Midwestern Republicans in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis event had no swimsuit competition, although given the way presidential politics seems to be going, I wouldn't completely rule it out in the future.
I suppose Gingrich could have been thinking, "If they didn't like me fat, maybe they'll like me thin." Alas, they don't like him thin, either. News stories from Indianapolis tended to mention his new slimness, but they also tended to mention ratings that would assure him of being the least popular candidate going into the primaries, unless Mike Tyson unexpectedly throws his hat in the ring.
In other words, even as Americans are told that they could change their lives if they just lost that extra poundage, the public perception of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich seems to have been unaffected by their weight loss. Clinton is still popular. Gingrich is still unpopular. As another American President once said, "Life is unfair." That President, of course, had his own vacation compound on the Cape and was slim to begin with.
Copyright © 1997 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.