May 28 2014
The First Lady appears to believe that elected officials should not have the authority to reform her enormously unpopular food lunch program. Mrs. Obama today called Republican reforms to the National School Lunch Program “unacceptable” and demanded that she get her way. “The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids' health,” she added. “Now is not the time to roll back everything we have worked for."
Sam Kass, her chief exponent of the lunch program, added that "the first lady is doing everything in her power not to roll back standards."
What power is Kass referring to? And who is the “we” she is talking about, when she says “everything we have worked for”? Mrs. Obama seems to have forgotten that the power of the First Lady traditionally lies in persuasion. She has not persuaded school children and their parents that she knows more than they do about what they should eat a public school cafeterias.
The First Lady is a great spokesperson for eating fresh vegetables when she is pictured gardening behind the White House, or exercising on the lawn. She has done numerous television appearances touting the value of exercise and good nutrition. But according to our Constitution, legislation is supposed to be left to the legislators, not the President’s spouse.
George Will last week wrote a column about a president who sees a more modest role for the chief executive than the intrusive one to which we have become accustomed. Will imagines what such a potential president might say on the hustings:
“A congenial society is one in which most people most of the time, and all politicians almost all of the time, say, when asked about almost everything: ‘This is none of my business.’ If as president I am asked what I think about the death of a rock star, or the imbecilic opinions of rich blowhards who own professional sports teams, I will say: ‘Americans should have no interest in my thoughts about such things, if I had any.’ I will try not to come to the attention of any television camera more than once a week, and only that often if I am convinced that I can speak without violating what will be my administration’s motto: ‘Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.’
Mrs. Obamahas a powerful pulpit as a working mother, as she often enjoys reminding us. In this case however, demanding that the nation’s public school students remain on her diet of “Michelle’s lunches” makes her seem more overbearing and nasty than likeable. It also isn’t her place to tell elected officials that they can’t reform her programs by enacting changes for which school administrators, parents, and kids are begging. A little modesty about her role would do Mrs. Obama a world of good right now.