The Obamas Police Food and Football (Updated)
Why their comments on Michael Vick and school lunches make us queasy.
December 28, 2010 - 2:17 pm
While one Obama says we can’t leave the eating habits of kids up to their own parents, another Obama congratulates a football team for hiring a quarterback with a criminal past. What to make of all this, and the uproar that has followed both?
Food and football are private affairs, and they’re as often as not connected to each other. We pig out when we watch football. They’re both a matter of individual taste. But thanks to Congressional hearings on steroid use among athletes, ObamaCare’s overreach into our health care, the FDA, the state near monopoly on primary education, and so forth and so on, both have become increasingly public issues, and more and more subject to government intervention and meddling.
It’s telling in some ways that President Obama even called up Philadelphia Eagles’ owner Jeff Lurie in the first place. They were mainly discussing the use of alternative energy at the Eagles’ home stadium, not Michael Vick’s second chance. Why should a president give a fig about what sort of energy gets used at a sports stadium? Because he’s a global warming zealot, and he actually thinks that his election will be marked as the time when the earth began to heal, because of his enlightened energy policies. How the Eagles power their lights and heat their hot dogs is all part of the system in which this president, more than most, feels drawn to intervene.
That President Obama weighed in on Vick’s second chance with the Eagles makes us squirm for several reasons. One, Vick’s appalling crimes put him outside the norm for sports criminals. Most sports criminals hurt themselves, and it usually costs them their careers. We are accustomed to sports figures using drugs, abusing spouses, gambling and assorted other sordid activities. We’re not accustomed to sports heroes torturing and murdering animals for fun and profit, but that’s what Michael Vick confessed to doing, and for which he served time. I’m fine with Vick getting his second chance even on the NFL team I loathe the most, but no one should be under any illusions about why the Eagles picked him up. Other teams, including the Falcons who arguably lost out the most when he went to prison, passed on Vick because they didn’t want their brands associated with him. Quarterbacks are the faces of NFL franchises. Before going to prison, Vick was a star among stars for his speed and elusiveness. He was the most electrifying player on the field.
Vick the dog torturer makes for a disturbing front man, regardless of how incredible his play is going forward. The Eagles picked him up mostly because they could. They rolled the dice. Vick 2.0 unexpectedly turned out to be better after his stint in prison than he was before. He seems to be making better decisions, and if anything his passing arm is much stronger than before. He’s turning out to be a brilliant quarterback. Lucky for the Eagles, then. But his second chance wasn’t done out of altruism. The Eagles want to win, and Vick is helping them do that. Both are making millions on the deal, which is fine.
Obama did not call up the owners of, say, the Texas Rangers to congratulate them for giving Josh Hamilton a second chance. Hamilton led that team to its first World Series appearance in its history. But Hamilton made some bad choices in life, and had his early MLB career derailed by drug and alcohol addiction. The Rangers took a chance on him and it paid off: He was brilliant at the plate in the 2010 American League playoffs, to the point that the New York Yankees wouldn’t even pitch to him in the ALCS. Where was President Obama’s call to Nolan Ryan, congratulating him for giving Hamilton a second chance?
The fact is, pro sports teams extend second and third and fourth chances to star athletes all the time, as long as those athletes still show the potential to win. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly an act of altruism. Jerry Jones didn’t bring a half dozen players with troubled histories to the Cowboys a couple of seasons back because he’s such a nice guy. He brought them to the team because he thought they would help the Boys win (and he was wrong on that). These athletes and their multiple chances hardly ever become presidential political fodder, though. President Obama’s weighing in on Vick, particularly given Vick’s crimes, makes it seem as if the quarterback’s skin color is more important to the president than the crimes he committed. The white Cambridge cop “acted stupidly” in arresting the black professor, after all, and Republicans are “enemies” of Hispanics and “hostage takers” in Obama’s eyes, but Lurie is a hero not for assembling a winning team or winning the NFC East, but for giving a certain convict a second shot at the big time.
On the food front, Michelle Obama likewise said something that, given the context, conjures up a lot of history. Speaking at a public school to commemorate the signing of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, the first lady said flat out that the federal government must act because “we can’t just leave [child nutrition] up to the parents.” She means it: The law she was on hand to praise gives the federal government the power to regulate the food sold in public school cafeterias nationwide. We are a very long way from 1994, when Republicans were threatening to end the Department of Education in order to turn more power over to local and state control. The federal food police are acting in the name of fighting childhood obesity, a real problem for which there is scant evidence that school lunches play any role whatsoever. School lunches, for the kids who eat them, constitute one meal a day, five days a week, about nine months of the year. They are not the dominant food source for the vast majority, if any, of America’s kids.
If the Obamas didn’t have a history of condescending to the American people, her remark would probably have gone unnoticed. But their history is one of saying that their rise to power marks the first time Mrs. Obama is proud of her country. Michelle Obama also lauded her husband’s political life like this: “Barack is one of the smartest people you will ever encounter who will deign to enter this messy thing called politics.” There is more pride and prejudice packed into that comment than a Jane Austen Bronte novel. Confronted on the controversial Ground Zero mosque (another controversy about which he did not have to opine, but chose to), President Obama had this to say:
I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society.
In his mind, opposition to the mosque had nothing to do with its original name and its reference to a period of Islamic domination in the West, and it had nothing to do with well founded suspicions that the mosque’s backers were up to no good. Obama framed opposition as based on anxiety, brought about by a “tough time.” We are weak, but he is strong.
Given all that public history now going back more than two years in national life, it’s not surprise that Michelle Obama’s remark about child nutrition was taken as more condescension from someone who believes she is our better. It’s no surprise that President Obama’s injecting himself into the Vick story comes off as hubristic and tinged with bias. Both are signs that they both remain our condescenders in chief.
Update: As a Cowboys fan, all I say is heh.
Two days after clinching the NFC East with help from the Green Bay Packers, a disgusted Andy Reid used those words to describe a flat, sloppy, 24-14 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night that cost the Eagles any shot at a first-round playoff bye and that left quarterback Michael Vick limping with a bruised thigh.
…Vick, who has carried the Eagles in their recent run of success and was named to his fourth Pro Bowl before the game, had his worst game of the year, losing a fumble in the second quarter that was returned for a Vikings touchdown, throwing an interception, and launching at least two other passes that should have been picked off. Under pressure the entire night – often from cornerback blitzes – Vick lost another fumble in the third quarter and finished with his lowest quarterback rating of the year, 74.1.
Not heh about the injury. Just heh that the Eagles get the call from Obama, and promptly turn in a pathetic performance, with Second Chance leading the way.