In the Bush White House, lying about leaking was no big deal. But one-upping this president's waistline? That's the kind of offense that could get even Rove fired.
He'll be lucky to last till suppertime. An ABC News headline after the president's physical asked, "How Much Is Too Much: Is the President Too Chunky?" and included Bush in a photo essay on "Famous 'Overweight' Men." The Washington Post headline on Rove's diet declared, "'Leaner and Meaner' Rove Has Less Weight to Throw Around."
The president wants to run a tight ship. But any empire builder like Bush must be familiar with Julius Caesar's famous words:
Over the years, presidential candidates have surrounded themselves with political consultants of Caesar's description – Roger Ailes, Dick Morris, Bob Shrum—although lucrative commissions may have shaped those men more than Caesar's warning. But even in America's thinner days a century ago, the very first political consultant—Rove's lifelong hero, Mark Hanna—was widely mocked for his girth. While the phrase didn't appear until two decades after his death, Hanna may well have been the original "fat cat."
"I Shamelessly Promoted The Planand Lost 80 Pounds": Characteristically, Rove appears to have concealed key details, such as body fat, BMI, and how much he weighed before he started losing. Rove's diet claims are a bit like Bush's claims on the budget deficit: it's easy to declare victory when you get to make up your own base line. As Rahm Emanuel and I write in our new book, The Plan, "No one should take seriously a political platform that promises more and expects less, any more than a diet book that says eating more and exercising less is the way to lose weight."
But apart from the sheer cheek of Rove's weight loss, what must concern Bush most is the way he lost it: a liquid diet. Bush gave those up years ago—and you don't have to be Gail Sheehy to assume that bad experiences with drinking spurred the president to become a fitness nut in the first place. (Rove doesn't help by attributing his success to "clean living.") More to the point, Bush must sneer at liquid protein shakes—rather than exercise – as the wimp's road to weight loss.
The Architect: If Rove is Bush's guru, Rove's guru is Dr. Arthur Frank, medical director of the obesity management program at George Washington University and a widely quoted expert on weight loss. Wait till conservatives find this out: Karl Rove's diet doctor seems to support a Twinkie tax.
In a 1999 piece called "Time for a Twinkie Tax?", U.S. News reported that Dr. Frank was "joining the call for the Pillsbury Doughboy's head." "We are losing the battle," Frank said. "It may be time for a last resort." Last year, in a Washington Post online discussion, Frank appeared to agree with a questioner's suggestion about advertising restrictions and Twinkie taxes. "We have to change the world of sloth and superabundance," he said.
Frank is also treasurer of the American Obesity Association, which holds a number of policy positions that won't endear Rove to Bush. The group wants a congressional investigation into whether the No Child Left Behind Act increases childhood obesity, supports making federal projects submit "Human Physical Impact Statements" similar to Environmental Impact Statements, and worries that American culture is making immigrants fat.
Rove's only hope: tell Bush that in 2002, the association helped convince the IRS to allow tax breaks for obesity treatment. So in the long run, the Twinkie tax is actually revenue neutral.