Forget His Résumé. What's His Regimen?

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By Geoff Earle
Sunday, July 31, 2005

"[President Bush] asked him about the hardest decision he had ever made -- and also how much he exercised."

-- From a July 21 New York Times story describing the president's interview with potential Supreme Court nominee Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III

President Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts for the Supreme Court settles it: It's now Jocks vs. Geeks in American politics -- and, just like in high school, the geeks are getting creamed.

I can't say for sure why Bush settled on Roberts. Maybe it was because he graduated at the top of his class, boasted fancy Washington law firm credentials and passed the ideological test. But I had a sneaking suspicion from the moment I saw him up close: After long deliberations and an exhaustive background check, Bush -- an avid runner and cyclist -- picked the jock.

Abortion and judicial activism might be litmus tests for Bush's conservative supporters. But the president, dogged by knee injuries, had another agenda in mind. During his interview with Judge Harvie Wilkinson, the jock-in-chief chided the potential nominee for failing to do enough cross-training.

"He warned me of impending doom," Wilkinson recounted.

So, yes, the left may fret about Roberts's fleeting and disputed membership in the conservative Federalist Society and the right may praise his impeccable résumé. But my confidential sources (Dear Judge: No, not Karl Rove) tell me that what really wowed Bush was that Roberts captained his high school football team. The president even mentioned this with special admiration when he introduced Roberts to the nation -- almost like it compensated for that annoying went-to-Harvard thing.

Pundits thought Bush's defining criteria would be gender or ethnicity. He'd pick a woman (as Laura suggested) or a Hispanic to make history. Instead, Bush opted for a white guy who could throw a good spiral.

Nor is Bush's court pick an aberration. Just look at the people he's chosen to surround him in the White House. It's almost like he ignored all the usual factors, and decided to put together Washington's best touch football team.

Rumsfeld: former wrestling champion. Ridge: former Marine built like a rock. Rice: ice skater, football fanatic and Bush workout partner.

Republicans on the Hill, like the freshmen trying to prove their worth on the junior varsity squad, have taken Bush's cue. Majority Leader Bill Frist is an experienced marathon runner who takes his staff on workouts around the Mall. Virginia Sen. George Allen, the tall, swashbuckling, football-playing son of the legendary Redskins coach, has turned the sports analogy into a new art form. When Republicans won a Louisiana Senate seat last year, Allen said it was like "a double-reverse flea-flicker lateral." I guess "home run" is way passé.

The new class of Republican freshmen could take on any in history at pick-up basketball -- particularly if they put 6-foot-4 Sen. John Thune in at center. (The second sentence of Thune's Web biography makes clear why Bush recruited the South Dakotan to run: "His interest in politics was sparked at a young age after making five of six free throws during a freshman basketball game.") And that's without even getting to the GOP ringers: The Hall of Fame pitcher, NFL wide receiver, college football star and college coaching legend who won election to Congress in recent years.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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