The First Physique will get full exposure

Shame, shame on the photographers who invaded the Obama family vacation in Hawaii and snapped pictures of a shirtless president-elect, promptly creating the latest Internet sensation … right after all those watch-the-puppies-sleeping Web cams.

In its restrained way, the New York Post declared: “FIT FOR OFFICE: Buff Bam is Hawaii hunk.”

Bam? A little dignity, please. “Buff Barack” works much better. (Also, “Barack” rhymes with “six-pack,” although Peter Moore, editor of Men’s Health, says of Obama: “I’d say he has a four-pack, rather than a six-pack, but most of us are working with a full keg.”)

But back to the paparazzi, which is indeed bad. But since People magazine will feature its own surf ‘n’ turf photos, it appears mainstream demand to see Obama in his swim trunks will keep photographers busy. Which does not make it right. The man and his family should be able to vacation in peace, even on a public beach. On the other hand, inquiring minds — er, prurient ones anyway — want to know. It’s a delicate balance. Or perhaps just consumer demand.

Obama has, in fact, been photographed swimming before. And Men’s Health featured him and his workout. But he was only campaigning then. His body surfing is more presidential now; his sunscreen SPF level is “executive.”

Photographing presidents on vacation is tradition. The Bushes boating, Ronald Reagan riding a horse. As a matter of superficial historical record, the Obama photos are an improvement over the beach stylings of any recent American president, save for John F. Kennedy, who as the most athletic, healthiest-looking sick man, remains in his own league.

The 1998 photo of Hillary and Bill Clinton dancing on the beach in their swimsuits, so ridiculously and self-consciously aware that they are being photographed, is still cringe-inducing. Other photos of President Clinton on the beach reveal a physique that may have contributed to his heart problems that required surgery when he left office.

Photographs of Richard M. Nixon “relaxing” on the beach while wearing a suit capture his unrelenting uptightness perfectly. Even when he would roll up the pant legs. Especially when he would roll up his pant legs.

So, now that everyone has seen the Obama photos, we can go ahead and bemoan the intrusive press. Don’t do that anymore. Unless it’s a really good shot, of course.

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