Opinion

JUAN WILLIAMS: Lighten Up, Conservatives -- Michelle Obama Should Be Applauded for Her Efforts to Fight Obesity

The king of talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, is mocking the first lady’s taste in fashion and even her looks and weight. His latest blasts against her are linked to her campaign against childhood obesity.

El Rushbo went whole hog on his show one day last week when he made this comment:

"The problem is, and dare I say this, it doesn't look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice," he told his listeners. "And then we hear that she's out eating ribs at 1,500 calories a serving with 141 grams of fat per serving... I'm trying to say that our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you."

Attacking any 47-year-old woman for not looking like a swimsuit model is way over the top. But the icing on this cake is that the attack is aimed at the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce the national epidemic of childhood obesity.

It is easy to get a cheap laugh by picking on fat kids or demeaning fat adults as sloths. But the non-partisan, bread and butter issue here is that America really does have a national obesity problem and the nation should be grateful to the first lady for taking action.

Obese children develop a myriad of health issues later in life which have an adverse effect on the rest of society. The first lady has said, quite correctly, that this is a national security issue as obesity is one of the most common disqualifiers for military service applicants. Children who cannot get up off the coach today will be the soldiers who cannot charge up the hill tomorrow. Obesity-related health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease steadily raise health insurance premiums as more people have to pay for more treatment options even if they are not personally affected.

Beyond the practical considerations, there is a moral imperative here to improve the well-being of our nation’s children. Not only do obese children face problems with their physical health but they must also grapple with emotional and self-esteem issues that result from their condition.

Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama planted a third vegetable garden on the White House grounds as part of her ongoing campaign to encourage children to eat healthier food. She has been speaking to schoolchildren, granting television interviews and will be writing a book to raise awareness about this serious problem. It is a thankless task she has undertaken but a vitally important one.

How on earth could any American be against a good-faith effort to solve all of these problems?

The health of our children is not just another political issue being used by conservatives to disparage the Obama administration. To be fair, some prominent Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (both of whom have been very open about their personal weight problems) have supported the first lady’s effort.

But many conservatives have tried to cast the effort as a heavy-handed attempt by the government to control what people can and cannot eat. It fits their narrative of the liberal Obama administration as the head of an intrusive nanny state where freedom is curtailed and the government asserts control over ever more aspects of Americans daily lives.

Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have joined Limbaugh and bellied up to this feast of criticism aimed at Mrs. Obama. Palin and Bachmann are upset that the first lady suggested last month that breastfeeding is good for babies and mothers should make an effort to breastfeed their children. Their argument is that Mrs. Obama is enforcing a big government, nanny-state mentality and denying Americans the right to feed their babies anyway they please.

The only government requirement here is in the imagination of Mrs. Obama’s critics. The first lady is merely suggesting children eat healthy food, nothing more.

The right has tried to undercut Mrs. Obama’s popularity since the campaign and it always seems to come back to her looks and style. First, it was her her choice of sleeveless clothing which showed off her arms. Over the summer, it was her vacation with her daughters to Spain at a fancy hotel.

And as The New York Daily News notes: “Rush Limbaugh can’t stop talking about the first lady’s body.” The paper said Limbaugh ‘has previously been in hot water for calling the first lady fat.” And now the charge is that she is a portly hypocrite for trying to tell other people how to eat while indulging in ribs.

Now, it is her vegetable garden.

Much like her husband, it seems that everything Mrs. Obama does is met with blind hatred and resistance by the far right. The country’s political health is the poorer because of this.

Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. Click here to read his recent five part piece for Fox News Opinion on "The Children of Juarez" His most recent book is "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It.

 

Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.

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