The right-wing has outdone themselves with their senseless attacks on first lady Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” campaign. And that’s no easy feat.
Last year, the first lady announced the kickoff of her initiative, which is designed to end childhood obesity in a generation. “A recent study put the health care cost of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion a year,” the first lady said. “This epidemic also impacts the nation’s security, as obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service.”
Mrs. Obama’s campaign is serious business, given the increase in strokes among the young, even children, and the higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other conditions that comes with an unhealthy lifestyle. About 32 percent of children and teens are obese or overweight. That’s 25 million young people.
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The first lady makes a number of recommendations, including asking the federal government to look at rules governing the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids on TV, and urging the entertainment and technology industries to find approaches to encourage physical activity. She is encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies, which lowers children’s chances of becoming overweight. And a task force has made a number of other suggestions at the request of the White House, including local governments creating incentives to attract supermarkets and grocery stores to underserved communities; increasing the number of parks and playgrounds; restaurants changing their portion sizes and children’s menus, and the federal government creating incentives to produce healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains.
A year after the unveiling, there is every indication that Obama’s campaign is a success in terms of greater awareness of the problem. She has traveled throughout the country encouraging schools to make healthier school lunches. And Wal-Mart — which accounts for 15 percent of the U.S. grocery industry — has agreed to lower the sodium, sugar and fat content in the food it sells. Few people are as well-positioned as Michelle Obama to make a change, and she is working it — as one of the administration’s most effective and popular political assets.
No one can really object with a straight face to encouraging healthier lifestyles. Yet, somehow, the right-wing has managed to do so. It is a combination of jealousy, the conservative strategy of attacking an opponent’s strengths, and pure, unadulterated racial insensitivity against black women.
“For them, government is the answer to every problem,” said Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, characterizing Obama’s stance as “very consistent with where the hard left is coming from.” Bachmann added: ”[T]o think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies? You wanna talk about the nanny state? I think you just got a new definition.”
The word “nanny” sounds a lot like “mammy,” which is an offensive racial stereotype of black women as the feisty, sassy, plus-sized domestic servant, usually a slave who worked in the “big house” and tended to the master’s children. Surely this was not lost on Bachmann. Other conservatives have taken the mammy stereotype even further. Conservative radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly called the first lady “Michelle, my butt.”
Meanwhile, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a cartoon (pictured below) on his BigGovernment.com website depicting a fat Michelle Obama. Breitbart, who is used to offending black women, is being sued by Shirley Sherrod. Sherrod, a former USDA official, was forced out of her job after Breitbart posted an edited video of Sherrod that gave the impression she had discriminated against a white farmer.
The racial attacks on Michelle Obama are not new. In the 2008 presidential campaign, conservatives painted her as an unpatriotic and angry black woman, once again relying on time-tested racial stereotypes. The president has faced his share of unreasonable attacks as well. When Obama chose to give a speech to children about staying in school, conservatives claimed he wanted to indoctrinate America’s children.
They even compared him to Hitler Youth and Chinese Communists, and urged parents to keep their children home. The hard-right was sending a not-so-subtle message that they have a big problem with African-American authority figures instructing their children or telling them how to live. Conservatives are doing the same thing with the first lady.
Years earlier, the left criticized former first lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, which was part of the war on drugs and discouraged children from taking drugs. Critics believed the slogan oversimplified the problem of drug abuse, that the program was ineffective and too costly, and failed to address systemic issues such as poverty, family breakdown and joblessness. But liberals were reasonable in their criticism back then. And they didn’t resort to personal attacks, not to mention the vicious, offensive and over-the-top tactics we are seeing today in this anti-Michelle Obama cartoon.
Disrespecting one of the most visible and admired women in America with a racist and sexist cartoon, the ultra-right wing is sending a message — that black women are suitable as the hired help, but don’t let them tell us how to raise our kids.