It wasn’t his best.
(On that, let’s forgive him; when you’re governor, and you give several hundred lunchtime talks a year, you’re bound to have a dud every now and then.)
He talked jobs.
He talked budgets.
He talked repairing roads and bridges.
He talked education.
He talked governmental vision.
When he did his best Paula Deen impression, I stopped shoveling in my lemon pie with fluffy white stuff on top and listened.
“I love cornbread and buttermilk and fried chicken just as much as you do,” he said. A few people chuckled. I didn’t.
Bentley is a doctor by trade — not a politician — so when he starts talking about Alabamians’ health, it’s worth hearing. I don’t share his opinion about President Obama’s health-care reform package; remember, more than once he’s called it “the worst piece of legislation to ever come out of Washington.” Talk about hyperbole, not to mention a lack of understanding of American history.
Nevertheless, this governor is uniquely qualified to have frank, if not difficult, discussions about Alabamians’ health that other governors could not. Who has more clout in this regard: a governor who also is a physician, or a governor who once was a farmer, or car salesman, or attorney, or career politician?
Say what you want about Alabama’s desperate needs; everyone places jobs at the top of that list. But those who refuse to acknowledge the epidemic of health problems that plagues this state are akin to those who still believe the world is flat. They’re denying the obvious.
Pick a health-related topic, and there’s better than a middlin’ chance that Alabama is going to be on the wrong end of that discussion.
Too many of us are obese.
Our eating habits are poor.
Fast food is one of our gods.
Many of us are diabetic.
Many of us suffer from weight-related heart disease.
On and on it goes. Old story, same epidemic.
I want to believe that Dr. Bentley gets this — and that his alter ego, Gov. Bentley, means it when he claims that making Alabama a healthier state is one of his priorities for 2012. (Thursday, he joined the Scale Back Alabama program.) Until the governor shows otherwise, let’s take him for his word.
“I am truly appalled at the state of health in Alabama,” he said. “I’m tired of us being one of the most obese states in the nation.”
Let’s be honest: Governors wield no magic wands that can miraculously replace fried chicken and fast food with healthy (and tasty) meals. Good gosh, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign is a splendid program against childhood obesity in the United States, but obviously some states — think Southern states, where good-old, fried-and-buttered Southern food rules — aren’t getting the message.
Let’s be honest, again: Bentley is good at symbolism. He’s not taking a salary until Alabama’s unemployment drastically improves; that looks good. So, too, does his vow to lose 10 pounds in 2012 as a sign of solidarity with the high percentage of Alabamians who are endangering their health — and their life expectancy — with their eating and exercise habits.
Anyone guess how much the governor weighs?
He tips the scales at 215 pounds.
(He’s told everyone, so it’s not impolite to repeat it.)
Paula Deen, the current queen of Southern TV cooks, has gained a pulpit to which she can preach this sermon. Her TV shows and cookbooks reek of grease and butter and fried crispiness, which is why they taste so darn good. But by admitting that she has Type 2 diabetes, she can influence thousands of Americans who follow her culinary and dietary leads.
And Bentley? Well, he’s no Paula Deen.
But if he’s a man of his word, he’ll talk loud and often about this Alabama health epidemic. He won’t let it get buried under the minutia of Montgomery politics and rants about what his party considers the evils of Democratic policies.
If he wants to make Alabama a better place, this is the perfect place to start.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ptutor_Star.