The right's weird Michelle Obama problem

They hate her because she ate a hamburger even though she wants children to be healthy

Published July 13, 2011 1:01AM (EDT)

Two separate Drudge Report headlines, from July 11 and July 12
Two separate Drudge Report headlines, from July 11 and July 12

It was just stupid when the Washington Post's 44 blog ("Politics and Policy") "reported" that Michelle Obama ate a hamburger. (Or, as Ta-Nehisi Coates said, it was "the dumbest story ever written in all of human history." He's not wrong!) After the right-wing blogs all picked it up, as they were always going to because of their seething, inexplicable hatred for the first lady, though, it became something darker than stupid.

After everyone else began calling the story dumb and pointless and inane, the Post... ran a poll. Now the people can decide if Michelle Obama is "a hypocrite" for eating a hamburger! In order to justify the newsworthiness of "Michelle Obama eating a hamburger," the Post's Tim Carman Googled "Michelle Obama" and "hamburgers," and discovered that she has eaten at least five hamburgers in the past.

Type in “Michelle Obama and salads” into Google, and you gets tons of hits about her introducing salad bars into schools. But few hits of her ordering salads in public.

It's not actually an example of hypocrisy for someone who advocates a healthy lifestyle to eat a hamburger. And a shake. If you eat a balanced diet and get some exercise, a hamburger and shake every now and then is fine. Any educated adult understands this. The Washington Post understands this. But because the conservative movement has decided that the first lady's anti-childhood obesity campaign is actually an attempt to ban all delicious food in order to force-feed your child organic arugula, this was presented in the original item as a "gotcha." Michelle Obama says kids shouldn't eat garbage all day, every day, but she ate a meal that has a bunch of calories! What a "mixed message." She should eat only carrots in public, or else children will think it is OK to have a bowl of "Tacos After Midnight" Doritos for breakfast and then play Xbox games for 18 hours straight. (Plus, Jesus, people, this is Shake Shack we're talking about -- the vegetables are all fresh and organic and the cow was fed better than kids on school lunch programs.)

The Post probably just ran the stupid story to begin with because they know Obama's anti-childhood obesity campaign is catnip for the right wing. Matt Drudge is obsessed with Michelle Obama and his weird fantasy idea of her as a threatening, angry, anti-white black woman (who is also a liberal nanny-state tyrant). Glenn Beck's "The Blaze" quickly picked it up.

Fox Nation, too, jumped on the story. Their comments section is a mostly unfiltered (the most blatantly racist comments, of which there are plenty, are eventually flagged and removed) peek into the hatred and resentment that feeds Michelle Obama stories on the right-wing Web:

What's especially insane about this is that Michelle Obama has worked very hard to not give people any reason at all to hate her. She made one ill-advised statement on the campaign trail -- the misinterpreted bit about being proud of her country for the "first time" in her "adult life" -- but since then she has been precisely as "controversial" a first lady as Laura Bush. She entertains. She travels. She wears nice clothes. Her sole policy issue is healthy children.

She's a well-educated, successful woman from a blue-collar background who took a break from her successful career to basically raise their adorable children while her husband is president. She is not "threatening" like Hillary Clinton, who actually wanted to be president herself. Or, at least, she's not "threatening" unless you're just "threatened" by... successful, powerful, black women. (I'm sorry, I meant to say "uppity.")

The clue that this is not related at all to anything Michelle Obama has actually done (or said), but rather who she is, is the legend of the old "Whitey" tape, which various right-wingers promised to produce, and which I, for one, still cannot wait to hear.

Sure, the right-wing Internet nuts and their enablers at every industry-funded think tank in Washington would turn a "kids should exercise" program into a full-on assault on liberty under any Democratic president -- it's what they do! -- but the tone of the Michelle Obama coverage, and the commentary it generates, is pretty unmistakably racially tinged. (In addition, obviously, to being usually blatantly sexist.)

But as long as the Post continues policing Michelle Obama's public appearances for imaginary hypocrisies, and then conducting polls about them, it can either absolve itself of responsibility or congratulate itself for the fuss it kicked up.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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