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August 12, 2009

Is Obama Girls Ad Out of Line?

I got an interesting question from a reader: what do you think about the ad questioning why Obama's daughters get a better lunch than public school students do?

The posters went up last week, 14 in Union Station. On each of the large displays, a thought bubble rises up from a picture of a beautiful 8-year-old: "President Obama's daughters get healthy school lunches. Why don't I?"

A Washington nonprofit that advocates nutrition-policy reform paid $20,000 to get its message across and carefully maneuvered Metro's tangle of regulations to display its posters. Metro gave it a go -- but the White House did not, according to the group. Within 24 hours of the signs' appearance, the White House asked the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to take down the ads, which feature Jasmine Messiah, a vegetarian who attends a Miami-Dade County public school that, she says, offers no vegetarian or vegan lunch options.

The Physicians Committee has declined to take down the posters.

PCRM President Neal Barnard, a nutrition researcher, says he received a phone call regarding the posters Aug. 4 (a day after they went up) from Associate Counsel Karen Dunn and Deputy Associate Counsel Ian Bassin.

"They're very nice people. I like them a lot," Barnard says. "But they called and said: Please take those down, you can't mention the kids and so forth. . . . They felt that mentioning the president's children was off-limits. They said [they're] not going to allow the use of their daughters as leverage."

The fact that the poster mentions the president's children has been the main point of contention, though neither the children's names nor their images appear. That reaction doesn't come as a complete surprise; when Ty Inc. marketed dolls in January named Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia, the first lady made her objections clear, and the toy company stopped using the girls' names. The First Lady's Office declined to comment for this story.

Generally I'm against dragging the families of politicians into political debates. The reason I'm against it is that whatever ire we feel against career politicians tends to be inappropriately deflected onto their families (who don't work for us, aren't responsible for their parents' decisions, and shouldn't have to deal with the fallout of partisan disagreements). That said, I don't really have a problem with the Obama girls ad for the following reasons:

1. The girls' names and photos weren't used in the poster. The mention of them is indirect and (when you consider the context) has less to do with them than it does with the conflict between the policies Obama wants others to abide by and his own decisions. According to him, income inequality is unfair because wealthier Americans have things poorer families can't afford. Yet he sees no conflict between his ability to send his kids to elite private schools and his opposition to charter schools that would make the same benefits to less affluent black families.

2. The ad isn't suggesting Obama's daughters are accountable, or should "pay" for their father's policy decisions. This is nothing like the City Council member who distributed fliers calling for the Bush girls to be sexually assaulted:

Prior to the forum, Avila had attracted the attention of law enforcement. In September he allegedly circulated a flier supporting the assassination of President Bush and the sexual assault of Bush's daughters. He also brought a hatchet to a city Planning Commission meeting in late July. He was not arrested in either incident.

And it's nothing like having an idiot movie star suggest that the Bush twins be drafted and sent off to war. No one is trying to "punish" children for the political opinions of their parents here, nor (as in the draft scenario) is anyone suggesting the politican do an about face and support a policy he opposes just so his children will be forced to "pay" for their father's policy positions.

3. There is nothing disrespectful or malicious about the mention of the Obama daughters.

No one is suggesting they be placed in harm's way or hurt, nor that they be deprived of anything. In fact, what this group is suggesting is right in line with Obama's supposed political philosophy: if Obama's daughters can have nutricious school lunches, shouldn't poorer kids get them too? If their suggestion were to be implemented, Obama's daughters would be no worse off. In fact, "fairness" would be enhanced and "inequality" would be lessened. It's not out of line to ask a politician who continually exhorts America to be "less selfish" so less fortunate citizens can have more opportunities to support a law that is 100% in line with his professed values.

Especially when it wouldn't affect his daughters' welfare one iota.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Heh...

Anna's comment prompted me to find the lunch menu for Sidwell Friends:

Tomato Basil Soup
Market Pasta Salad
Salad du jour
Organic spinach salad
Philly Cheesesteaks
Roasted Local Veggie Melts
Organic Baked French Fries
Steamed Organic Broccoli
Organic Pears

Yeah. I think it's probably better than typical public school fare.

Posted by Cassandra at August 12, 2009 08:34 AM

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The political point being made here is this:

1) The President makes sure his daughters don't have to suffer the same poor quality of food (and education) that the government he heads provides for others.

2) Since the President ran for office on the claim of being a friend to the poor, that is hypocrisy as well as elitism.

That implies this remedy:

A) The Federal government should increase payments to schools, "earmarked" for healthier lunches.

B) The Federal government should ensure that the states and localities spend the money as appropriated.

There's probably no other effective way to make the point that the President is a hypocrite on this particular issue. Since it's the only way to make the point, it's hard to say it's illegitimate to do so. You could phrase it in a hypothetical, I guess: "What would you say about a President whose children...." Even that wouldn't change the impact, because everyone would know whom you were talking about.

As for us, we provide homemade lunches in a John Wayne lunchbox.

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2009 12:26 PM

Yet another example of Unintended Results.

I remember when the School Lunch Program first started -- its purpose was to provide free nutritional meals to children whose parents were "too poor" to sack a PB&J sandwich for them. Then it was further expanded to include children of parents "too poor" to sack a ham 'n' swiss on rye with Grey Poupon for them. Now it appears that it's at the point where parents are outraged their kids aren't getting trans-fat-free, organic, free-range mango and kiwifruit salad pita sandwiches.

Gotta love those "entitlements" that grow fangs...

Posted by: BillT at August 12, 2009 01:19 PM

A classmate of mine from graduate school picked up on this and said, "This ad assumes that the lunches at Sidwell are really better than anywhere else."
Not that he'd know, since the only school he attended was SFS, so he didn't experience the other side either.

It's an ad. It pulls two charged things together to make a point, whether or not there are real facts to connect the two dots. It's clearly working, because people are talking about it.

Posted by: Anna at August 12, 2009 01:24 PM

Well, I always packed my kids' lunches too. We didn't have the money to pay for a school lunch every day - it was cheaper and healthier for me to pack them a lunch. I pack The Unit a lunch every day, too.

Can't imagine buying a lunch every day. Costs too much.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 12, 2009 01:40 PM

I was always packed a lunch, too, except for the rare occasion once I was in high school, and that was when chicken nuggets were on the menu and I had the money to pay for it (I didn't ask Mom & Dad - I had allowance) when we were in El Paso. Much of my elementary school was spent at the DoDDS school in Augsburg, Germany. We didn't have a cafeteria. And, if there is one population who doesn't make a lot of money, it's lower enlisted, but everyone had lunch every day.
Once we were back in Germany my last two years of high school, our permanent quarters were only a block from the high school. There was a cafeteria, and there was a Burger King (part of AAFES there) between the HS and our building. Sometimes had BK, but most often went home for a freshly prepared meal. With my current employment, I'm still packing a lunch, usually a sandwich and chips, and now (since I'm trying to lose a lot of weight) water instead of a soft drink or sweetened tea...

I, too, have no objection to this ad...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 12, 2009 02:00 PM

We sent lunches when our kids (at least all of them tried public school)were in school. Cheaper, healthier and much better tasting.

I remember reading about a school in Missouri that got electricity in the 50s. The moms came in during lunch (there were 40 students in the school) and fed their children a hot lunch.

Interesting; no mention was made of who paid for the food, but no cafeteria workers or anything so refined as a government system.

I would far rather see the little darlings grow their own...


Posted by: Cricket at August 12, 2009 02:09 PM

Maybe we should also ask why Mrs. Obama and their daughters receive Secret Service protection and [insert your name here] doesn't!

Posted by: I Call BS at August 12, 2009 02:11 PM

I am quite sure that there is some sort of federal law prohibiting naming of or usage of Presidential children if, and only if, the children in question are those of a Democratic President.

For instance, one Presidential daughter made regular party trips to Tijuana while in college,and had to be helped to walk out of a couple of their fine establishments by Secret Service Agents, but that was not to be discussed. Another President's daughters tried to get drinks while in college, and they were condemned as drunks. In either case, I just saw it as college kids getting a drink - ain't that unique - but totally different responses by the media and Democratic talking heads.

Fortunately for me, I only went to college to study, and any libelous statements to contradict me will be handled in the appropriate courtroom setting.

In the subject matter of this blog, it is the most innocent usage of the Presidential daughters and in no way denigrates them. They're cute little girls, and we all wish them only the best.

What I find intimidating is the usage of counsel to contact the so called offenders. Of course, now that the average person has found a voice, the Left is coming out with polls to show that the Right Wing Lunatics are coming to life and are to be compared to Timothy McVeigh if they happen to disagree with anything this administration is up to - shades of kristallnacht.

Posted by: RIslander at August 12, 2009 03:07 PM

My guys have the option of bagged lunch or school lunch. The older they get, the more frequently they ask to take lunch. I've had a theory for a while now that the only way to improve the quality of school lunches would be to pass a state law requiring prison inmates to receive the same lunch provided to school children....then sit back and watch the legal proceedings.

Posted by: DdR at August 12, 2009 03:11 PM

That actually might work well. I understand that in Georgia, the prison inmates plant and grow the garden that produces fresh produce for their meals. That would be a useful lesson for today's children!

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2009 03:54 PM

When you can make the argument that the children of the POTUS' superior lunch nutrition is a matter of national security, I'll buy off on the equivalence.

But for Obama to tell me that it's wrong for me to have superior services than those who make less than I do and then for Obama to say that it's just fine when he does it, is the very definition of hypocrisy.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 12, 2009 03:54 PM

I wasn't being totally facetious in that comment about them growing their own. There are schools that have more than enough land to grow enough produce to feed them and would definitely be a boost to the FFA and 4-H programs. Alice Waters and Molly Katzen have successfully encouraged some schools to have a garden. The burden isn't wholly off the taxpayer, but even the wonders of organic gardening shouldn't be lost on the Gaia crowd, not to mention healthier and tastier lunches.

The excess could be sold or donated to local food banks.

Just a thought.

Posted by: Cricket at August 12, 2009 04:17 PM

Tonight's vegan dinner (we try to eat vegetarian every other night because of the garden and to encourage the CLUs to eat their vegetables) is basmati rice with beluga lentils, salad with cucumber, tomato and bits of onion, dressed with a homemade vinaigrette. Scalloped squash on the side. The salad ingredients and the squash came from our garden.

The CLUs after-school snack is homemade chips and salsa.

It is very labor-intensive to have a garden and use it, but the Almighty is aware of our needs. Planting and working the soil is a good thing.

Posted by: Cricket at August 12, 2009 04:24 PM

Is there such a thing as free-range-spam with arugula? I wonder how Sidwell would advertise the venerable S.O.S.-chipped beef on toast, which I still love. Probably "Market Price schwein flesche smothered in beurre blanc en croute. Life is good with the polloi.

Posted by: vet66 at August 12, 2009 06:55 PM

Me? Today, it was a microwave "Oscar Meyer Deli Creations Stekhouse Beef Flatbread Sandwich". I needed to eat it before it spoiled, but the microwave I had died last week and I haven't decided which new one to replace it with. Normally, I pack a sandwich & a bag of chips and have water to go with. Dinner (on the way home, since I was at the office later than I had planned, and Dad wasn't cooking) was a Wendy's single & small fries with a small sweet tea. Still hit my reduced calorie target for the day...

When we're cooking here at the house, which my dad has done a lot this summer since he's off from school, he's been grilling chicken for me & my mom and a steak for himself, which will be accompanied by whole kernel corn and some version of potatoes (usually baked, or maybe boiled, but Monday night he did a nice butter-laden pan of casserole potatoes. Yummy! Most of my family is very "meat & potatoes", but Mom is very good about the fruits & veggies.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 12, 2009 08:45 PM

We had homemade salsa today, courtesy of the wife, which topped the black beans and rice I made.

Er... but for dinner, because we had to be out running errands, it was Taco Bell. So I guess we don't hit it on all cylinders every time. :)

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2009 09:15 PM

Well, a little fast food now and then isn't gonna hurt you. For the longest time, my vice has been the occasional Wendy's Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger.

I allow myself one every other month. Not because of the cost or quality, but because they seem to really hit the spot, and I don't dare indulge beyond the limit of one.

Taco Bell is okay. I have been known to eat there. I love their grilled steak tacos.

I guess what gripes me about school lunches is that they don't have to be that dreadful in order to make and save money. On the other hand, we will have a generation of children who don't know what a decent meal is and who will be always be hungry because junk food will not feed them, but only fill them up.

I truly think that the epidemic of overeating in this country isn't JUST because of the junk food and availability of it, but because food that is whole and minimally processed is full of nutrition that will stay with them. Not only that, their palates will suffer and we will have picky eaters on top of the junk food junkies.


Posted by: Cricket at August 12, 2009 11:04 PM

Bush's daughter Jenna (and probably Barbara too) attended private schools when she was younger. Did that make Bush a hypocrite because his daughters "didn't have to suffer the same poor quality of food (and education) that the government he headed provides for others"? Or not, because he never claimed to be "a friend to the poor"?

Posted by: I Call BS at August 13, 2009 12:11 AM

I remember we had vending machines at my Jr high and HS in El Paso. Can't recall for sure about the HS in A-burg. I don't know about other districts, but AISD here in Austin no longer allows vending machine for student use.

Since I'm working towards my weight-loss goal, and I sometimes need the convenience of fast food, I've investigated those places I liked to go and/or were conveniently located. Before I looked into the nutritional information, I used to eat Sonic A LOT. Not so much anymore - it's one of the worst, at least calorie-wise. I've got the things I know I can pick up at Wendy's or Long John Silver's or Taco Bell or Arby's or McDonald's, and more recently, What-a-burger (so long as I get the Jr. combo...).

But, you are right about kid's having different tastes these days. When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to have a stay-at-home mom. We always had home-cooked meals. Eating out or having fast-food was a special occasion. When my sisters were still young, my dad retired from the Army and went to college, so my mom got her first job outside the home since before she got married. My sisters had a lot less adult presence than I did growing up, and that, I think, also resulted in a lot more eating of processed foods than my brother & I had growing up. My youngest sister, now 24, is a very picky eater. Even at our holiday dinners, she pretty much only eats mashed potatoes and brown & serve rolls - no turkey, no corn, no dressing/stuffing. When she goes grocery shopping, the things I know she makes sure she has is frozen chicken strips & fries and spaghetti noodles, Ragu and a loaf of frozen garlic bread...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 13, 2009 12:27 AM

Maybe we should also ask why Mrs. Obama and their daughters receive Secret Service protection and [insert your name here] doesn't!

Different situation.

Most wives aren't married to a political leader whose job carries with it a high risk of assassination.

Re: the Bush daughters attending private school, since Bush strongly supported charter schools (and also didn't advocate eliminating income inequality), what logical basis would there be for the notion that this was hypocritical on his part? There is no conflict between his decision to send his daughters to private school and his political position.

Just as there wasn't with the draft - he opposed the draft and favored an all volunteer force (as do the vast majority of folks IN the military). That's what makes Matt Damon such a horse's ass. Military folks aren't "forced" to go to war.

They voluntarily chose a profession knowing this was a strong possibility. Depriving his daughters of that same free choice wouldn't help anyone else - on the contrary, with a draft everyone would be deprived of choice.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 13, 2009 04:44 AM

KtLW readily admits that I'm a better cook than she is -- she just won't admit it in front of the dinner guests.

And I'm smart enough to keep my yap shut when we have company...

Posted by: BillT at August 13, 2009 04:49 AM

Bush supported school choice, BS.

Heh. I do make a mean pan of brownies. Lovely, glossy, slightly crispy sugary top and creamy, just-barely-baked insides that aren't gooey or cakey, just right.

I am a pretty decent cook, but that is because I am familiar with my kitchen, the equipment and ingredients. Whenever we have moved, in spite of consistency of technique, my cooking will be off
until the oven is properly cleaned and adjusted, and if it is gas or electric.

Tonight's dinner is leftovers: Pot roast of beef simmered in homemade chili sauce, served over homemade hamburger buns (the recipe is in Gourmet magazine) and homemade potato chips, and of course, a crisp green salad.

A Brag: The eldest CLU is dating now, at least once a month. No biggie, but his dates are FUN.
This Saturday, he is taking a girl to the park and for snacks, he is making wonton and fried rice. He can't afford to eat out, so he brings it...and he makes it himself.

He is working on saving his money, but what I get a kick out of is his ingenuity in making the most of his resources, and how much in demand he is as a result.

Posted by: Cricket at August 13, 2009 06:38 AM

Tell me, who's the hypocrit? Person A or B?

A) You shouldn't have an uneccesarily large house. What about my uneccesarily large house? Well that's *different*.

B) I like uneccesarily large houses. If you can afford one, I say go for it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2009 09:49 AM

If you think there's a glaring disparity between where politicians can send their kids to school and the rest of us who merely work and pay taxes, wait till "health care reform" takes hold. The populace will wait in lines and be forced onto waiting lists for ordinary procedures while Obama and his D.C. ilk will continue to receive gilt-edged VIP medical care--instantaneous and still private-inusrance quality. The Kremlin is alive in America!

Posted by: Gary at August 13, 2009 10:41 AM

"Tonight's vegan dinner (we try to eat vegetarian every other night because of the garden and to encourage the CLUs to eat their vegetables) is basmati rice with beluga lentils, salad with cucumber, tomato and bits of onion, dressed with a homemade vinaigrette."
That to be called a blue plate special in the restaurants down he'ah. Particularly good eatin' in the hot summertime.
"It is very labor-intensive to have a garden and use it, but the Almighty is aware of our needs. Planting and working the soil is a good thing."
Agreed. And it, like good old dirty, hard work in general, can be therapeutic.

Posted by: bthun at August 13, 2009 10:58 AM

Revise botched attempt to make a coherent statement read, That used to be called a blue plate special in the restaurants down he'ah.

Posted by: bthun at August 13, 2009 11:01 AM

I am sputtering with...I dunno...rage? Karl Marx is now an economist? When did that happen? I missed that memo.

The squash was superb. We will be reworking our garden layout to take advantage of shade to grow artichokes, and a slope to raise gourd-type fruits and vegetables.

We always had a garden when I was growing up. I had forgotten how truly wonderful fresh salad greens tasted.

Posted by: Cricket at August 13, 2009 11:38 AM

your eldest is awesome - I'll always take home-made snacks over bought ones :o)
and who would not like a guy who cooks for you??

Posted by: olga at August 13, 2009 12:42 PM

Thank you, ma'am. He is a good lad. He wants to play it cool, as he is only 17.

Posted by: Cricket at August 13, 2009 01:31 PM

I thought a blue plate special had a meat and two (or sometimes three) vegetables? You got the meat of the day, whatever it was, but your choice of a selection of vegetables that were normally on offer. Of course, in the South, "vegetable" includes things like grits, which are vegetables only in the 'animal-vegetable-mineral' sense of the term.

Posted by: Grim at August 13, 2009 01:38 PM

"I thought a blue plate special had a meat and two (or sometimes three) vegetables?"
Maybe. Then again it could be that you eat at higher class restaurants. =;^}

The poke-n-chokes I recall from my childhood had no meat on their blue plate specials. Just piles of cold vegetables.

Posted by: bthun at August 13, 2009 01:46 PM

I always thought grits were a condiment...

Posted by: BillT at August 13, 2009 01:47 PM

A condiment when mixed with stewed tomatoes. A dairy supplement with mixed with cheese. And drywall patch when leftover.

Posted by: bthun at August 13, 2009 01:50 PM

And drywall patch when leftover.

We Southerners are adaptable folk :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 13, 2009 02:18 PM

Maryland *is* somewhat south of Newfoundland, after all...

Posted by: BillT at August 13, 2009 02:31 PM

I wonder whether that spinach salad has any arugula in it?

Posted by: l at August 13, 2009 02:32 PM

Boat caulking when using instant. We finally figured out how to cook grits/polenta to where they are fabulous.

Of course, you start with stone ground grits. Then you simmer them gently in chicken broth with a bit of cream.

Posted by: Cricket at August 13, 2009 03:25 PM

re lunch money - we did do school lunches for a while in higher level of elementry/middle school. The Marine!Goth (just the Baby!Goth then) went through a phase where he thought that it was mandatory to eat what his friends were eating.

In HS, I bought a lunch ticket for him periodically, since he had a bad habit of forgetting his packed lunch on JROTC drill days when he left the house at 6 am in full uniform.

By the time he was a senior in HS, we were trading off cooking dinner. He did two nights a week, I did two nights and all weekend meals and we had take out or pizza on Fridays. - He was SO glad to know how to shop and cook a bit when he made CPL and moved out of the barracks.

Back on topic - I think the ads made a perfectly good point. We DO need to improve school nutrition. For a lot of kids, it's still the only 'balanced' meal they get most days.

Posted by: Karla (threadbndr) at August 14, 2009 03:04 PM

You are going to be picked up by BillT in his black helicopter for speaking Truthiness.

I wish I could have access to the budget as well as the cafeteria for a whole school year. Not only would the meals be better tasting and healthier, it would also cost less. When you have kids paying 2.25 per lunch, as the wholesale cost of the food, you have to ask yourself where the school got it and what source it came from.

Many is the time our son comes home and eats a high protein snack with raw vegetables because he could not and would not eat the stuff they serve at the school.

Skipping meals is hard and we have given him lunches, only to have them taken from him, so we got him a cafeteria pass.

I was talking with one of the managers; she told me that while 'no child will be turned away' if they are hungry, many is the time that some kids who are not on the free lunch program will eat because it is the ONLY meal they get. This was while he was in middle school. Soo...for the rest of the year at his middle school, we paid for two extra lunches so someone else could eat.
Believe me, we checked it out thoroughly so that the money went to where it needed to go.

When we contacted the high school about it, they looked down their PhD noses at us and said 'No. You will create a dependency.'

Uhhh...sure. And the free lunch program doesn't already do that?


No, we are not heroes for doing this. What bothers me is that we should be MORE involved than at the subsistence level of 'adequate' nutrition.

Posted by: Cricket at August 14, 2009 04:06 PM


When I was student teaching, and when I substitute teach, I can eat the cafeteria food. No, thanks. That stuff, more often than not, looks disgusting. I'd much rather stick to my cold cuts on whole wheat and a bag of chips...

In one district I started subbing in this past spring, they feed everyone breakfast, regardless. They want to make sure every child starts the day with a full tummy. This morning meal is delivered to each classroom, at least at the elementary level, and the breakfast doesn't look so bad: something like a sausage wrap (something with meat & bread), served with the student's choice of juice or milk. I might actually eat the breakfast stuff...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 15, 2009 01:19 AM