Kathleen Parker is a fan of the First Lady and in her latest column, she praises Michelle Obama’s focus on food and family and suggests criticism of her is driven not by people’s natural discomfort with being told how they should eat and how they should feed their children but rather by irritation that she’s embraced “a traditional female role” and that Ms. Obama chose to “focus on uber-domestic issues rather than directing her intellect and education on ‘more important’ issues.”
Parker writes: “What upsets so many in Obama’s own political camp is that this First Lady has so vividly chosen family over career.”
Oh please, really? Where exactly is this “upset;” and more importantly, where is this choosing “family over career”? Is the First Lady really clamped shut inside the White House home schooling her kids? Is she trolling around Washington playgrounds and leading mommy groups? For heaven’s sake, her daughters are in school for a large part of the day and Michelle Obama’s own mother lives in the White House residence to care for her girls when she travels. And let’s not forget, there is a legion of eager assistants available to the Obamas at all times to help them with their every need.
But to some degree, I can see Parker’s point. I have no doubt that some raging feminists would rather Ms. Obama take up abortion or violence against women. They probably prefer she focus on gender inequity or the wage gap or, even better, the myth that women are kept out of the science and mathematics fields. But, I hardly see her as the victim of feminist vitriol. And let’s be honest, is she really the target of anyone’s vitriol in the style that was so perfectly handed out to right-leaning female public figures…oh say, like vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, North Carolina Governor Nicki Haley, Delaware Senate Candidate Christine O’Donnell, or political commentator S.E. Cupp? For goodness sake, the First Lady enjoys record-breaking approval ratings and she’s hardly sinking under the weight of massive negative media.
Her positive press is easy to understand. There’s a lot to like. Mrs. Obama is a well-spoken, elegant, highly educated First Lady who clearly loves her husband and children (Americans love love!) and has managed to stay out of major public policy debates, unlike Hillary Clinton who, while First Lady, was so determined to throw off her pretty arm candy role that she dove head first into the shallow end of the health care issue and suffered the embarrassing blow to her ego because of it.
But Parker does the First Lady a disservice in painting her as the nation’s nurturing earth mother who just wants to tend to her perfect garden and create new and healthier low-fat versions of America’s classic casseroles. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Michelle Obama has altered the way Americans eat, possibly forever. And she hasn’t accomplished that with charm alone.
Let’s just take a look at some of the public policy changes Mrs. Obama and her little green thumb and kitchen apron have managed to accomplish:
She’s helped pass through Congress a massive expansion of the School Lunch Program to the tune of $4.5 billion in tax dollars. She’s encouraged more parents to sign their kids up for school feeding programs (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, summer meals) which has created only more disincentive for parents to provide simple and healthy meals for their children and, more damaging, has managed to send a message to poor parents that they are not a part of the solution.
Mrs. Obama’s strong-armed restaurants into vowing to reduce portion size and serve “healthier” items, leaving one eager participating restaurant fighting to stay afloat because of low sales (what? No one wants to pay for small portions of bland food?). She even convinced one candy company to stop producing their large-sized candy bars to the horror of teenage boys everywhere. But that’s ok, you can buy two which will cost you more but what’s a few extra dollars to the Obamas.
The First Lady has been wily in using her considerable influence to her advantage. Knowing certain big box stores looking to expand into urban areas were facing fierce opposition from community activists and leftist politicians, she worked out a devil’s deal where if these stores agreed to change the recipes for their house brand products (less calories, fat, salt, sugar, etc.), she would get behind their efforts to expand into these hard to penetrate urban areas. Of course, this was all done under the rubric that she was fighting food desserts (now debunked as a myth), so it looked on the up and up. Smooth!
Mrs. Obama has also been busy doling out your tax dollars—creating a nearly $350 million federal grant program designed to fund everything from school gardens to grocery stores trying to open in these so-called “food desserts.” And she’s thrown her support behind a number of food-nanny initiatives—calorie information requirements, food labeling, as well as the much maligned sugary drink ban recently introduced by Mayor Bloomberg.
These are significant accomplishments for a First Lady who, as Kathleen Parker puts it, simply wants to find “expression in the most elemental of endeavors — digging her hands into Mother Earth and offering nourishment to her young.”
Oh please. Let’s not insult the woman. Michelle Obama wants a lot more than a garden in every backyard and a chicken (trimmed of all its fat) in every pot. This is no dream sequence courtesy of a Roosevelt fan. This is our current First Lady who wants all Americans to turn over our food decisions to those who know better—our government minders.