It’s become predictable in this tempestuous campaign season: First Lady Michelle Obama, who has chosen fighting childhood obesity as her favorite cause, utters something that seems judgmental about healthy eating, and conservatives pounce. (Nor is her husband immune to criticism for the ruckus he causes when he steps out for a bite.)
The pattern repeated itself Tuesday, as the right-leaning chattering classes reacted to an exchange Obama had with Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas when the two appeared Monday on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Obama had already done her segment with Leno, discussing how she and her husband messed up, then redeemed, their “kiss cam” moment at a recent basketball game, and how her Secret Service detail reacted when U.S. Olympic weightlifter Elena Pirozhkova hoisted her during the London Games. (“Fortunately, they didn’t take her down,” said the first lady.)
Leno asked her to stick around for his visit with Douglas, and Obama happily obliged.
When Leno asked about whether the teensy athlete, who generally eats a restrictive, protein-heavy diet, splurged after winning her gold medal for best individual all-around gymnast, Obama’s teasing response provoked predictable criticism. “You train your whole life, you win. How did you celebrate and what did you do?” Leno asked Douglas.
Douglas, who looked adorable in a black leather jacket, said she wasn’t able to celebrate right away because she had team finals coming up. “But after the competition,” she said, “I splurged on an Egg McMuffin at McDonalds.”
“Egg McMuffin?” Leno asked brightly.
Obama leaned toward Douglas. “Yeah, Gabby, don’t encourage him. I’m sure it was on a whole wheat McMuffin.”
“Oh, on a whole wheat bun,” Leno said. “So an Egg McMuffin, very good.”
Obama pretended to chastise the gymnast: “You’re setting me back, Gabby.”
“Sorry!” Douglas replied.
The spin machinery sprang into action: “Michelle Obama Lectures Gold Medal Gymnast about Eating One Egg McMuffin,” said the headline on a blog post on Town Hall, the conservative website.
Calling her a “food cop,” Reason’s website went with “Michelle Obama Makes Gabby Douglas apologize for Celebrating her Olympic Gold Medals with an Egg McMuffin.”
Many outlets noted that an Egg McMuffin packs a mere 300 calories and is hardly a serious arterial threat, particularly as a splurge.
If the conservative reaction seems a little over the top, it should probably be noted that Obama’s anti-obesity campaign has also struck fear into the heart of the most powerful man in the free world, already known for his healthy eating habits. Monday morning, President Obama told supporters in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that he was happy to be back in the state that gave him his first important victory in the 2008 presidential campaign.
“I think I’m going to end at the state fair,” he told the crowd, referring to every presidential candidate’s obligatory stop at Iowa’s signal summer event, where crowds delight in hideously caloric fried foods and a refrigerated life-size bovine sculpture.
“Michelle has told me I cannot have a fried Twinkie,” said the president. “But I will be checking out the butter cow, and I understand this year there’s a chocolate moose. So I’m going to have to take a look at that if I can.”
He did avoid the Twinkies, but it cannot be said that he opted for a health-food alternative. He sampled pork chops -- though not on a stick, an Iowa favorite — and washed them down with a beer.
Later, according to the Des Moines Register, Republican Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley set off another Obama food controversy when he tweeted that the president’s visit to the fair’s popular beer tent had cost its proprietor thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
“How does PresO justify havin secret service shut down the bud tent @ the state fair dn the owner told me he loses 50,000 n 1 nite,” tweeted Iowa’s senior senator.
The ticked-off proprietor, a Republican who does not plan to vote for Obama, told the Register that his losses were more like $25,000, which would have come from fairgoers attending a concert of the rock cover band Hairball on an adjacent stage. The disgruntled owner, Mike Cunningham II, told the Register’s Kyle Munson, “I was in a position to make a campaign donation against my will.”