I had to read the news story twice, and then I scanned it again. 09-21-11-margaret.jpg

Former President Bill Clinton, a quintessential Southern boy if ever there was one, has become a vegan.

It was almost as stunning as if, in his mid-60s, he had suddenly announced he were gay. I had an immediate fl ashback of the day early in his first term as Leader of the Free World when Clinton led a contingent of fit and toned Secret Service agents on a morning jog and popped into a McDonalds for a quick burger and fries. We Americans and everyone else were treated to the fi rst and only known sighting of Presidential short shorts in the history of the world.

What about all that barbeque on the campaign trail? What about shrimp and Hollandaise at state dinners and steaks and mac and cheese in the White House’s family dining room? Ice cream and TV with Hillary and Chelsea?

I know many people who flirt on and off with some degree of vegetarianism, and truth be told, I eat far less meat than I once did. I also know folks who refer to themselves as “fl exatarians,” meaning that they eat mostly plants and grains but enjoy occasional doses of meat, seafood and dairy products. For some people, such choices are health related —they want to keep their arteries clear and their weight and cholesterol under control. For others, it is a philosophical, environmental or ethical issue regarding treatment of animals by human beings, especially the industrial farming of animals. For others, all of those issues play into their decisions about what to eat.

Vegans eschew all animal products, including diary, in their diets, and some vegans eliminate the use of all animal products from their lives, including leather, fur, wool, honey and all consumer products tested on animals.

So intrigued was I by the former President’s dietary decision — not to mention his 24 pound weight loss — I searched and found an interview he did with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on the subject. His decision, Clinton said, was health related. After heart-bypass surgery and the implanting of stents, his cholesterol continued to build. Using that Rhodes Scholar brain of his, Clinton studied up on the issue and found that 82 percent of people who change to a “plant-based diet” are able to control heart-related health issues. No dairy for him these days, but he did own up to the occasional piece of fi sh but never meat of any sort.

I have to admit, the former President looks terrific, especially in what appeared to be a good-looking silk tie.

The massive fall issues of women’s fashions magazines are out, exploding with advertisements for everything from clothes to face creams and weighing down tote bags of fashionistas and those who would like to be around the world.

The fall issues are the biggest of the year, hundreds of pages thick with more ads than editorial content, and what editorial content is there often refl ects which designers and companies bought ad pages and which did not.

As a concession to tough economic times, several of them go out of their ways to include articles on fashionable items under $50 or under $100, generally toward the back of the magazine, but the prime pages are full of items that cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. It is hard to imagine who spends that kind of money on clothes, some of which are decidedly odd-looking, but clearly someone does or they would not be created or advertised.

Nevertheless, I was fl abbergasted recently as a friend and I toured the Mint Museum in Charlotte to learn that some haute couture creations by designers like Chanel cost as much as a jaw dropping $100,000 — maybe more. The curator who had organized an exhibit of Chanel clothing dropped that stunning fact and added that the entire industry is supported by about 1,000 women around the world who are willing and able to commission and purchase these duds.

I do not think I have ever met a woman who could — or would.

New polling released last week finds that Americans have the lowest opinion of Congress ever recorded by Rasmussen, hitting the single digit mark and rendering Congress about as popular as Casey Anthony.

Only 9 — yes, 9 percent — of us think that Congress is doing a good or excellent job while a full 52 percent of voters responding say Congress is doing a poor job, a number which ties the highest number recorded in that category.

Certainly, the state of our economy and the constant name-calling, fi nger-pointing and partisan bickering are behind these historic and troubling findings.

What is hard to fathom, though, is why members of Congress do not quit digging themselves deeper into the hole of public disgust while the issues facing our nation become ever more pressing.

To paraphrase Rodney King, why can’t we all just get along and get going?

Photo: Former President Bill Clinton has shocked the world by becoming a vegan.

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