Politics & Policy

The First Lady & the Cheeseburger

Michelle Obama has designated herself mom-in-chief. Nanny-in-chief would be more like it.

After a recent Milwaukee campaign event for Sen. Russ Feingold, Michelle Obama tucked into a juicy cheeseburger and fries at a local favorite, Miss Katie’s Diner. While having photos taken and signing autographs on paper napkins, the first lady was unaware that her brief stop at Miss Katie’s would create an Internet stir, with the blogosphere erupting in criticism of her hypocritical lunch choice.

Poor Michelle: She can’t even order a simple burger without being criticized.

On the other hand, the First Lunch Lady deserves at least a little ribbing for ordering a fat-filled diner meal. After all, she has made it her calling to harangue the American public, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, school kitchen staffs, and even her own husband and children about the proper way to eat. This leaves her more than a wee bit vulnerable to teasing from Internet bloggers and commentators when she ventures off the healthy-food reservation.

She’s probably surprised that people chafed at the sight of her cheeseburger and fries. Her order was probably selected at least partly to make her seem more approachable, more likeable, more normal. It failed. It only made her more irritating.

Michelle Obama certainly has the right to have whatever she wants for lunch. I’m sure she knows whether she can afford the calories to indulge occasionally. What grates is that she doesn’t seem to trust average Americans to make similarly good (or occasionally bad) choices for themselves and their families.

It is precisely these concepts of choice and personal responsibility that seem to elude the first lady and the president. Since making obesity her signature issue, Mrs. Obama has made it clear that she thinks more government is the solution to the nation’s weight problems, just as her husband thinks it is the solution to the nation’s health-care problems. In her view, healthy lunches provided by schools, not parents, are the key to combatting childhood obesity. Government can make Americans fit by finger-wagging at restaurants for cooking with cream and butter, and chastising grocery stores for having the temerity to stock salt and snack foods on their shelves.

These efforts illustrate one simple truth: The Obamas don’t seem to think most Americans can control themselves or know what’s good for them. Rather, they view Americans as children in need of instruction, close monitoring, behavior modification, and punishment if they rebel. In short, the American people need a mother. And Michelle Obama seems to be nurturing this concept of presidential parenting. At another campaign event last week, the first lady referred to herself as the mom-in-chief and talked about how she views most problems facing this country from the perspective of a mother.

And like a mother who scolds her children for using swear words and then yells profanities at aggressive drivers on the interstate, Michelle Obama strains to follow her own rules.

This isn’t the first time the Obamas have exemplified the art of “do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to healthy living. Since taking office, Barack Obama has made quite a show of his taste for calorie-laden food. On one of his first days in the White House, he was photographed carrying large grease-stained bags of fast food to staffers in a slightly awkward “I’m a great boss” sort of gesture. There was also the much-buzzed-about pizza flown in from Chicago. (How many carbon credits did he have to buy for that deep-dish splurge?) Many workers in the nation’s capital are all too familiar with the president’s traffic-clogging stops at burger joints and at D.C. landmark (and Bill Cosby favorite) Ben’s Chili Bowl for a chili half-smoke.

President Obama even took Russian president Dmitri Medvedev for a burger during his June visit to the United States. The first lady, meanwhile, has been seen several times at D.C.’s burger mecca, Five Guys.

The truth is, these Everyman activities on the part of the first family might be greeted with cheers from us regular folks if the president and first lady didn’t simultaneously lecture us that the food we (and they) enjoy is making us fat. So, instead of being endearing, their burgers and chili dogs are just another sign of the Obamas’ disconnectedness from the rest of America.

I have a suggestion for Michelle Obama with regards to Cheeseburgergate: Keep your proclivities toward fatty foods hidden, much the way your husband does with one of his vices — smoking.

It would make your lecturing us a whole lot more appetizing.

Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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