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August 01, 2005

Fit for duty

I heard the phrase all weekend: Our esteemed president of these united states had been pronounced "fit for duty" by doctors who'd given him his yearly physical and what-have-you. There were many variations of this story around, but the "fit for duty" phrase seemed to be in every last one of them.
So NOW what am I ranting about, you wonder? Don't we want our head of state to be "fit"? Well....
Oh, this one is way too easy! I could really go off on a riff about the many reasons I believe Georgie W to be not fit to be president. None of them have to do with physical "health," though.
Another way of saying this: I think the obsession with physical fitness in our leaders a bit, well, obsessive.
What about FDR? Of course that would be the first thing to spring to mind, wouldn't it? Franklin Delano Roosevelt is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the best presidents we've had, and I'm certainly not alone in that assessment although in the Fox News 00s it has become fashionable to tar him with the oh-so-bad "L" word. (And worse: the "S" word ("socialist").) History will hold that he was one of our best presidents. But all the "fit for duty" pronouncements over the weekend made me realize once again why FDR had hidden his inability to walk.
This gets sort of dicey, though, and that's why I wanted to blog a bit on it. Maybe somebody will post a comment or email me (if you can't make the comment doohickey work) that helps expand this thinking.
OK, so let me just lay it out without too many connectors or drawing of conclusions:
1. Yeah, of course we want our leaders to be capable of performing the job. Bush gets a "dubious" mark there from me (actually an "F" if I want to be nasty about it) and it has nothing to do with this doctor and "health" stuff.
2. But we make too much of the importance of the physical aspect of fitness, and not enough of the other kinds of fitness... moral, for example.
3. In a broader sense, the whole rigamarole of publicizing these doctors' findings etc. seems to just buy into the "if you're healthy you're good; if you're not, you're .... uh ... un-fit."
4. Which can easily expand to "unfit for office."
5. This isn't to say that serious illness, the kind whereby you cannot perform the essential functions of the job, should not be a concern. But I don't think this is really what all the weekend hoopla was about. It was about something else. I'm not sure what, but it seems to me that it's more of our focusing on the wrong priorities in leaders. The weekend hoopla had something of the "he's a good president because he's healthy" quality to it. Which I didn't like at all.
6. We have a number of elected leaders who have disabilities -- Jim Langevin (D- RI) is but one. And this isn't about that, either.
7. And then there's Chief Justice William Rehnquist who won't retire even though he needs to (a good piece in the Baltimore Sun yesterday about that.). And that doesn't have anything to do with his having cancer.
8. However, I cannot help noting the irony of his ruling against Patricia Garrett when she had cancer and wanted her job back. The Sun piece mentions that.
9. A number of the Supremes have had cancer. Besides Rehnquist, there's Sandy Day and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It's almost -- dare I say it? -- Supreme cool. They certainly don't let it get in the way of their rulings, though. And I say that as a criticism, not praise.
10. If Bush had cancer, would he be "fit for duty?" Is Rehnquist?
11. Is that the wrong question?
12. Is anyone going to send me their thoughts on this topic?

Here's a thought:

The thing you said that strikes the hardest "moral fitness,"

In my opinion that is a so much more difficult standard to meet than physically fit.

Moral fitness can also mean different things to different people.

I think for our country's leaders:

A certain mental agility.

A tempered, moral fitness. (tempered by what? Um, not self interest, surely.)

And someone who realizes that they're up there to protect the best interests of all of the citizens.

That might be the beginning of 'fit for duty' to me.
COMMENT-BODY:It is supposed to be a government for the people by the people meaning representative of the general populace so why are we (the generalized collective we, not including us crips of course) so hung up on this superhero/cowboy ideal for our leaders?
A superhero/cowboy type is not representative of myself, or frankly of anyone that I know. I would much prefer a Real Person with a combination of education and life experience that qualifies him or her for the job.
COMMENT-BODY:"Fit for duty" is a military term with specific meaning about physical ability, isn't it? So, our esteemed Commander in Chief who lied to get American soldiers into an increasingly unpopular war where 1,800 have now died and -- how many have returned home permanently disabled? He is "fit for duty."

It's diversionary. More of that confidence-building bluster, both subconscious (on the media's part, maybe) and deliberate (the White House PR dept.). It's using the binary of fit and unfit -- where disabled people are the excluded ones -- to prop up the president and the American ideal of being strong and in control. Disabled people are the unspoken, unwanted alternative in this annual scenario, which feels particularly obnoxious while body bags and injured soldiers no longer "fit for duty" are being shipped home.
COMMENT-BODY:Thanks for these comments! I never realized that "fit for duty" was a military term. Figures, though -- everybody connected to this administration seems to really like all that military junk. And yeah, moral fitness certainly is a higher standard to have to meet. Finally, I do wonder what it is in our makeup that seems to make us want to idolize leaders who are physically fit. I suspect that's some sort of a deep evolutionary impulse, but... could it be changed? Could it at least be publicly discussed? That would be good for starters.

Posted by mjohnson at August 1, 2005 03:48 PM