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Today's topic is Our Incredible Shrinking Politicians. Pound by pound, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are disappearing in front of our eyes.

Once they were plump lads of ample tonnage. Maybe not in the class of sumo wrestlers or NFL tackles, but far from petite. To weigh them both, you needed a highway truck scale.

Put it this way: You'd be nervous riding an elevator with both Bill and Newt aboard. You wouldn't want to get behind either one in a buffet line.

Ah, but fatties no more -- the prez and speaker are so trim, they could almost perform as Chippendale studs in a strip bar.

No more extra-large jumbo jeans for these two. Maybe you noticed their new, svelte look when they celebrated their budget deal in the Rose Garden. These baby boomers hadn't merely shrunk deficit bloat. There was a lot less of Bill and Newt.

Well, 14 pounds less for Clinton, down to about 200. And 25 pounds less for Gingrich, down to about 220. Gone are waistlines that resembled Goodyear blimps -- or in Clinton's case, the thunder thighs in jogging shorts that stopped traffic.

Perhaps you saw the jaunty way Clinton bounced across the lawn for his televised news conference. His one-time tent-sized suit coat was snug, his jawline more like Clark Kent's.

Clinton's downfall, literally, came after his tumble on golfer Greg Norman's steps. Docs told him an average middle-aged male would stuff an extra 20 pounds after knee surgery. Embarrassed that he'd balloon into a presidential version of William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Clinton began pumping iron, swimming laps and chowing down on fruit.

"He's an exercise animal, a madman," said a White House aide.

The fanaticism was visible recently when Clinton stopped his limo, en route to the golf course, to run sprints on the White House track. By the way, the prez sneaked out for golf five of the last 11 days. Hey, a guy's gotta tune up for vacation. I suspect true scandal will emerge in post-presidential memoirs -- Bill's played more golf hooky than the addicted Dwight Eisenhower.

The big losers in Clinton's diet-athon are David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. How will late-night comics survive without gags about Clinton and Big Macs?

If they're going belly-to-belly in this weight-loss showdown, Newt's ahead. Gingrich had more girth to shed from his Pillsbury Doughboy shape.

"I looked at myself in January and made a New Year's resolution and stuck to it," bragged Gingrich. "At age 54, I found diet and exercise work. I want to drop another 15 or 20 pounds."

Asked his secret, the once-jowly Newt told reporters, "No beer, real exercise. I'm a couch potato, a bookworm, so it's hard. But I set the treadmill to 'press' -- it makes me run harder."

OK, nothing startling about a couple of boomers hitting the fitness trail. But maybe this weight-loss passion by Bill and Newt should worry us. We're familiar with mood swings that grip dieters in the battle of the bulge. They're either hungrily grumpy or euphoric.

Is that what happened in the budget deal? Did manic goofiness overcome ideology? Newt: "C'mon, let's cut the capital-gains tax and have some more lo-cal yogurt." Bill: "Sounds yummy. I'll go for the $500 child credit if you'll pass the tofu."

What next? If they keep dropping tonnage, will Bill and Newt get so giddy they lose their senses and agree on campaign-finance reform?

Nah, too much to hope for -- they'd relapse into Double Whoppers, shakes and big fries before endangering the system.

These lean, ascetic boomers make me yearn for the era 75 or 100 years ago when politicians were proud of plush stomachs that popped their vest buttons. Times seemed safe and secure when we had fat presidents. Tell me America wasn't content (1909-13) when William Taft, the Ohio Gargantua, was in the White House. Taft tipped the scales at 320, thanks to a diet of 22-ounce Porterhouses swimming in gravy. Runner-up was Grover Cleveland (1885-89 and 1893-97), a pleasingly portly 260-pounder. You could look it up: No fat president ever went to war.

Oh, well, let vanishing Bill and Newt thrive on lettuce and goat's cheese and sweat until they're skinny as GQ models. One thing won't change: No diet will ever reduce the political ego.

Philadelphia Daily News

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