Editor’s note: Dana Milbank will be replacing David Broder while he recovers from an illness.
WASHINGTON — Rush Limbaugh thinks Michelle Obama is a big, fat idiot.
The broadcaster announced during his show Monday that the first lady “took the kids out to Vail on a ski vacation, and they were spotted eating, and they were feasting on ribs — ribs that were 1,575 calories per serving with 141 grams of fat.”
Actually, the restaurant put the calorie count at 600, but Rush was determined to chew out Obama. “The problem is — and dare I say this? — it doesn’t look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice,” he said. “I’m trying to say that our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.”
Limbaugh is in an excellent position to make this observation, being perhaps the finest example of the male form since Michelangelo sculpted David. In 2009, he went on a fad diet, full of controversial supplements but little exercise, and lost 90 pounds. Such crash diets are dangerous — and, sure enough, Limbaugh wound up in the hospital at the end of the year with chest pains. Judging from recent video footage, he has regained most of the bulk.
But Limbaugh isn’t the only one who thinks the first lady is hypocritical to campaign for healthy eating while indulging in the occasional burger. A week earlier, Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government website published a cartoon showing an overweight Obama devouring a heaping pile of hamburgers and fries.
“I’ve stepped up my efforts to control America’s eating habits by telling restaurants to lower portion sizes and fat content,” she tells her husband in the drawing.
The president, poking at vegetables, tells her that she is “going to annoy a lot of people.”
“Shut up and pass the bacon,” the first lady says.
A few days before that, the American Spectator criticized “Food Nanny” Obama for an e-mail to supporters saying she looked forward to having barbecue at the Democratic convention in Charlotte in 2012. “Michelle Obama praising Carolina barbecue? That’s like Gandhi praising mixed martial arts fighting.”
Now, I’m not accustomed to defending Lady Arugula. When I ridiculed as elitist her acquisition of pricey (and certified-organic) Tuscan kale at a downtown Washington farmers’ market, her spokeswoman informed me that I wasn’t “invited back” to other first lady events.
But on this point, the first lady’s detractors don’t have a legitimate beef. She’s never told people to cut out junk food; she’s suggested they eat junk less often and exercise more. “I like to talk about my obsession with french fries because I don’t want people to think that ‘Let’s Move’” — her anti-obesity campaign — “is about complete, utter deprivation,” she told reporters over a recent lunch. “It is about moderation.”
Moderation? It is a concept that causes dyspepsia in the first lady’s critics.
Fox News mistook her moderation for hypocrisy when it posted a story titled “Michelle Obama OKs Americans to Eat Pie on Thanksgiving.” On the other side, nutritionists mistook her moderation for weakness when they told the Boston Globe that they were “wondering why Obama didn’t set a better example” than serving bratwurst, deep-dish pizza and Buffalo wings at the White House Super Bowl party.
In other words, the food criticism is an extension of politics. On the left are the purists who think a single tortilla chip is an unacceptable compromise. On the right are those who think any nutritional recommendation amounts to a food dictatorship. The first lady, taking a sensible approach, is sandwiched.
In Limbaugh’s case, politics is like a fad diet: He crows when the facts are supporting his beliefs (or when he’s losing weight), and, when the facts are discrediting his ideology (or when he’s yo-yoing back to obesity), he talks about something else.
During Tuesday’s broadcast, Limbaugh resumed commenting on the first lady’s figure. “Some people are suggesting that my comments are below the belt,” he said of the woman he has called “Moochelle” and “Michelle My Butt.” Limbaugh continued: “Well, take a look at some pictures. Given where she wears her belts — she wears ’em high up there around the bust line — isn’t just about everything about her below the belt, when you look at the fashion sense she has?”
The corpulent critic giggled and concluded: “Yes, every square inch of my glorious, naked body oozes with the truth.” Let’s hope they keep him out of the swimsuit issue.
Dana Milbank is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.