THE COMPASSIONATE EXERCISER
Walter M. Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- President George W. Bush, the self-proclaimed compassionate conservative who doesn't want government intruding into private lives, has just mixed government into private lives.
In creating a new initiative, spun out as "Healthier Us," he told us heart disease is costing Americans about $183 billion a year but by diet and exercise we can reduce not only heart disease but also cancer deaths by one-third.
Surreptitiously invoking memories of Sept. 11, he slips past us that "a healthier America is a stronger America." President Bush wants us not only to be "physically active every day," but to "develop good eating habits [and] take advantage of preventative screenings." He emphasizes he doesn't want Americans to smoke, do drugs, or drink excessively, all of which he once did to excess.
Had the President just made the suggestions to the American people, the people could accept or reject them. Most of what is said and done in Washington, D.C., doesn't affect too many people, anyway. But he also "urged the folks at work inside the White House to exercise on a daily basis."
The President said that "as an employer, I insist they take time off, out of their daily grind, to get some exercise." Being the compassionate conservative he is, he said the appointed staff - more than 5,000 persons - "can do it anytime of the day, so long as they get it done."
His insistence probably also affects his Cabinet secretaries and their deputies and, for all we know, just about any federal employee in any 8'-by-10' office anywhere in the country. After all, a presidential employer's "suggestions" aren't really just "suggestions." His directive probably doesn't apply to Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose working day is spent hiding from terrorists while trying to remember what he did with Halliburton, Enron, and the energy lobby.
The President's thoughts about preventative treatment and routine medical screenings may be well-intentioned. But most insurance companies won't pay for them, preferring to pay $50,000 after an illness rather than $2,000 to prevent the problem. It's just "cost-effective."
It's doubtful President Bush will intrude upon any industry's "rights" to continue to make obscene profits. Nor is it probable he is concerned that 44.6 million people, 16.8 percent of all Americans, according to the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, don't have medical insurance, mostly because they can't afford it.
The President definitely didn't say anything about the one-third of all Hispanics and one-fifth of all Blacks who don't have medical insurance. And, he never once noted that when Hillary Clinton led a campaign to improve health care and insurance coverage in America, the Republicans punctured it with more holes than the vacuous comments made before Congressional committees by the oil and energy lobby.
President Bush also didn't say anything about the 730,000 Americans who were laid off in the first four months of 2002, nor the 2.5 million Americans laid off in the first year of his term, most of the layoffs resulting in higher compensation for the executives and increased corporate shareholder income.
He didn't mention that the unemployment rate is now 5.8 percent - 8.4 million Americans - up from 6 million in October 2000, the month before the election, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most of the unemployed, just trying to survive, no longer have insurance or the means to follow a healthy lifestyle, just as they and large segments of the elderly and minority populations no longer can afford the medications and health care they need.
Poverty also wasn't mentioned, but it directly affects the health and welfare of Americans. There are currently 31.1 million Americans living in poverty, up from its lowest point in October 2000, according to the BLS. Persons without adequate income and shelter can't afford adequate medical care, nor do most have the will to begin and continue an exercise program.
While exhorting his White House staff to exercise more because he found people who exercise are "better able to communicate and happier on their job," the President exercises about 90 minutes a day, often with a three-mile run.
Perhaps it wouldn't be unreasonable to ask the President - and all of his appointees - to spend the same amount of time, any time of the day they want to do it - to exercise their minds. With a little bit of mind-stretching, the President's Compassionate Conservative Corps might figure out how to help all Americans get adequate medical coverage, while reducing poverty, unemployment, and mass layoffs. There shouldn't be too many people who object to that kind of governmental interference. Walt Brasch's latest book is "The Joy of Sax: America During the Bill Clinton Era." A former newspaper reporter and editor, and author of 14 books, he is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. You may write Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org.