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Late Senator Scolds Public in Self-Help Book

Terry Ashe/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

It takes a brave politician to talk about his hair implants.

But the late Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) didn’t stop at that. In 1973, his book “You Can Do It! Senator Proxmire’s Exercise, Diet and Relaxation Plan” laid out in excruciating detail his own attempts to go against the grain and get physically fit. In doing so, he added to a quirky bibliography that includes “Uncle Sam: The Last of the Bigtime Spenders” and “Report From Wasteland: America’s Military-Industrial Complex.”

That’s right. A self-help book, from a United States Senator.

The ideas in the book aren’t radical. Exercise consistently. Eat balanced, smaller meals, emphasizing fruits and vegetables. Relax by slowing down or meditating or whatever. Pretty standard fare for self-help in the early 1970s, when the health boom was beginning.

No, the thing that makes the book interesting, aside from the oddity of a Member of Congress writing it, is how candid the language is. Most tomes by politicians are gauzy attempts to flatter the voting public.
Proxmire used “You Can Do It!” to criticize the American people as lazy, fat and soft, and he argued it was their patriotic duty to get in shape.

Proxmire, who died in 2005 at age 90, wasn’t the type to mince words. He came to Washington by winning a 1957 special election to replace the iconic and disgraced Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who died in May of that year.

Voters in Wisconsin had gotten to know him in 1952, 1954 and 1956, when he unsuccessfully ran for governor. But he embraced his past failures and even used them as a selling point, arguing that he knew what it was like to get knocked down and get back up, just like anyone else trying to make a living.

The voters would end up sending him back to Washington, D.C., five more times, until he retired in 1988. It wasn’t because he was a smooth political operator. In Washington, he took on vested interests and lost causes, exemplified with his monthly Golden Fleece Awards, which highlighted what he considered wasteful federal programs, and his years-long advocacy of the international anti-genocide treaty.

Still, even for someone who took his own colleagues to task for their stewardship of taxpayer money, it’s shocking to read the ways he tears into the public.

After an introductory statement about how rich and powerful and great the United States is, Proxmire stated flatly: “We are as a nation in one hell of a mess. The reason is simple: As a people we are a physical wreck. We are too fat, too soft, too tense.”

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