Pumping Iron - Spear's Magazine

Pumping Iron

Almost the first thing that President-elect Obama did after winning his landslide victory was to pick up his black sports holdall and head off to his local Chicago gym for a work-out.

Almost the first thing that President-elect Obama did after winning his landslide victory was to pick up his black sports holdall and head off to his local Chicago gym for a work-out. Sometimes during his campaign he was seen by the media working out at much as three times in a day. Several pundits posited the interesting thesis that this was calculated electioneering: by drawing attention to how fit the 47-year-old serial exerciser was, he was subtly also drawing attention to how much older and less physically active McCain was. According to The Times, Obama can bench-press 200 lbs.

But is this hard-man image really true? Frankly the President-elect comes across as a bit of a skinny-latte softie.  In order to set the record straight, an undercover reporter from Politico.com spied on Obama in his gym. Wearing a secret service cap, grey T-shirt, black running shorts and white Asics sneakers, Obama ran ‘a full-body workout’, with his assistant ticking off exercises from a training sheet, which included triceps presses with single 15-lb dumbbells (pretty puny weights) in each hand.

When he moved onto overhead dumbbell extensions, he started with 50-lb bells, lifting them once whilst gritting his teeth and grimacing with pain. Looking humbled, he quickly swapped them for lighter dumbbells and breezed through the rest of his work-out without groaning.

The message here is clear: attempting to lift heavy weights when you are a slender and relatively inexperienced young Senator is a bad and dangerous idea; and thankfully Obama appears to already know this. With so much on his shoulders come 20th January, and expectations so high as to whether he can pull his country out of its isolationist hunkering, and get the world to love America again, the world should give him a chance — at least a year — to train up his presidential muscles before judging him. Obama was not elected Mr Universe.

But his obsession with working out is a fitting metaphor for the message of renewal and painful de-tox required in order to fix many of America’s ills. The country has gone to rot, its body politick and financial system is paralysed, and it is afflicted by more toxic debt than any other nation on earth. In short, it is suffering the mother of all hangovers. The patient has suffered the equivalent of a major stroke and is currently on life support — bailed out by the US taxpayer to the tune of $700 billion; no wonder Obama wants to be seen pumping iron to get the US back to being the Popeye of the western world.

How can he do this? Our advice is that Obama needs to quit being seen in public clutching a dog-eared paperback copy of Nobel laureate Derek Wolcott’s poems (Obama is also a poet) or worrying about what sort of White House puppy he is going to buy his daughters. Rather he needs to get on with installing that basketball court in the White House and to waste no time in inviting the world’s TV cameras to see him strutting his stuff around the court as he shoots the hoop from the three-point line.

Look how much political capital Putin achieved when the Kremlin released that menacing photo of him on a rugged hunting trip to Siberia, bare-chested and brandishing a rifle, posing like Rambo in combat trousers before a fire-fight. The Russians loved it; and ditto when the media reported that Putin had intervened to save a TV crew, personally shooting an escaped Siberian tiger that was about to attack the group (unlike US Vice President Dick Cheney, who managed to shoot a fellow quail-shooter in the face whilst hunting in Texas).

Obama needs to remind the world that America is still a muscular, tough super-power led by a dynamic young leader, not a withdrawn teenager with a toxic-debt abuse problem. Puppies and writing poetry send out all the wrong messages.