When I first heard that President Bush was talking about health at the corporate headquarters of Wendy's last week, I was proud of him. I figured he had joined medical experts, his wife who has spoken about heart disease in women, and former junk food junkie Bill Clinton, who is heading a campaign against childhood obesity and for healthier fast foods. I assumed that the president was telling the corporate heads of Wendy's that he was sure they could still make a huge profit while providing healthier meals. I loved that he was standing up to a big corporation in favor of America becoming a healthier nation.
But I was wrong. It wasn't for this noble reason that he was speaking at the nation's third largest hamburger and fries company. He was talking about health and his health care plan.
The White House claims that the president was attracted to Wendy's because its health care plan is similar to the one he likes. Wendy's offers employees "health savings accounts," and that's what Mr. Bush is pushing in his plan. He's suggesting that Americans be able to put money in special tax-free savings accounts, and use that money for health care in addition to catastrophic health insurance. The idea is that these accounts will make people more aware of the money they are spending on medical needs and will, therefore, drive down the costs as the worker looks for the best bargain in medical care.
But nobody has explained how someone who is just getting by on a paycheck is going to be able to afford to put away extra money in a health savings account. So critics believe that the main result of such a plan will be for those who aren't well off financially to forego necessary medical treatment. Meanwhile, the rich will be able to have tax-free savings accounts.
I'm not so sure if President Bush's choice of Wendy's as the site of his speech was really because of Wendy's health plan. Surely there are other companies that have similar plans but don't sell food that's helping America to become the nation of obesity.
So, why Wendy's? President Bush is not a fast food addict like President Clinton was. He's in great shape, and obviously cares a great deal about his own health. So the choice couldn't have been because he's a big fan of their food. Was it a "wink and a nod" location? Was he saying, "I have to say that I'm concerned about health care for the middle class and the poor, but what I really care about are big corporations like Wendy's?"
Or was it part of this administration's anti-science bias? Maybe it was his way of saying, "All of this talk about unhealthy food leading to unhealthy lives is bunk. America has been living on junk food for years, and look how much healthier we are than all those starving countries in Africa." It would be like him standing on a melting glacier saying, "What global warming?" Or maybe like him saying, "schools should teach both evolution and intelligent design" at the monkey cage at the zoo.
Or maybe it's part of his personal responsibility thing. "If you think fast food is bad for you, nobody's making you eat it. I gave up liquor, and so can you. So, stop blaming the wonderful companies who make this stuff."
Another possible reason for choosing Wendy's headquarters is that they're in Ohio, a pivotal electoral state. A recent state poll showed that only 38 percent of Ohio voters approve of the president's performance. Maybe he felt if he gave a speech there, he'd get a few more Ohio voters to like him.
Or maybe I'm digging too deep looking for the president's motives. He usually does things just because he feels like it and because he's the president who, apparently, can do whatever he wants. Maybe he just always wanted to visit Dublin, Ohio.
Or maybe it was just a bad decision. The administration has had its share of those. Maybe it was like nominating, then un-nominating, Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Maybe it was like, "Way to go, Brownie." Maybe it was like "Mission Accomplished" on the USS Abraham Lincoln. At least he didn't give a gun safety speech in front of Dick Cheney's house.
Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver