Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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White House Setting an Unhealthy Example?

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On Wednesday, at a White House media event, President Obama surrounded himself with white-jacketed health professionals to underscore his push for health care reform.

Sunday’s New York Times offered a different West Wing prop — one that doesn’t speak to a healthier America: Obama aide David Axelrod’s seeming disregard for his own health.

Here’s how the Times described the scene:

“Sitting at his desk next door to the Oval Office last week, [Axelrod] was tearing into a five-inch corned beef sandwich on rye with a Flintstone-size turkey drumstick waiting on deck. “I am the poster child for the president’s obesity program,” he said.

A few minutes later, Mr. Obama walked in unannounced, scattering two aides like startled pigeons. “Hey,” Mr. Axelrod said by way of greeting (no “sir” or “Mr. President.”) Mr. Obama surveyed the spread on Mr. Axelrod’s desk with a slight smirk.

“What is this, King Arthur’s court?” he asked, then pulled Mr. Axelrod aside to talk about a health care speech he was about to deliver.”

At risk of getting hate mail, let me explain why this “eats” at me:

1) Politics is not only about stagecraft, but consistency. The President’s selling Obamacare day and night, the First Lady is campaigning against obesity, and even Bill Clinton is lecturing on the dangers of fast food. Yet, here’s a top advisor joking about an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s a free county and Mr. Axelrod is free to ingest all the deli meats he likes, but maybe he should do out of the public spotlight (kinda like the President sneaking in a quick smoke, if he so chooses).

2) Double-standard. The President wants to unleash the forces of government into your medical decision-making, yet he’s not so concerned (publicly at least) that he hasn’t staged an Administration-led intervention to keep the guy sitting next door to him from eating himself to an early heart attack. I may be off-base here. Perhaps the President and First Lady are hounding Axelrod day and night about his diet. But in the Times piece, he comes across as callous.

There’s one other thing I found unsettling in the Axelrod profile. This passage:

“He wakes at 6 in his rented condominium just blocks from the White House and typically returns around 11.”

The impression is the top people in the Obama White House are working 16-hours days, personal health be damned, to promote their man’s agenda. Sounds like a lot of wheel-spinning and far too many meetings — probably, meetings to discuss why they’re having so many meetings.

And that scares me — the concept of full-throttle 16-hour days at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Just as it scared me back in January 2002 when Tom Brokaw went behind the scenes at the Bush White House and found the same spectacle (real, staged or semi-staged): a bunch of West Wingers working at the kind of breakneck pace that eventually will produce burnout — and bad judgment calls.

Heaven forbid the terrorists hit us 15 minutes before that 16-hour shift ends.

Here’s hoping Mr. Axelrod cuts down on his carnivorous pursuits — or someone inside the West Wing is willing to give him some straight talk.

No political job is worth risking one’s life — even if it’s a White House job of a lifetime.


Written by Bill Whalen

March 7, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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