Sarah Palin has come under fire from the right for her attacks on the first lady's anti-obesity campaign.
The conservative opinion page of The Wall Street Journal, which frequently criticizes the White House, on Monday hit Palin over her attacks on the first lady. This followed criticism by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who like Palin is thought to be mulling a 2012 presidential run.
In an editorial, the Journal pointed out that the first lady’s efforts to date are in keeping with what Palin herself has supported in the past.
" 'Health-care reform on an individual basis is often just this simple: we could save a lot of money and a lot of grief by making smarter choices,' ” Palin said in her 2009 State of the State address, according to the Journal. " 'It starts by ending destructive habits and beginning healthy habits in eating and exercise.'
"Mrs. Obama's campaign is grounded in similar sentiments, and in that sense is unusual for this White House in emphasizing personal responsibility," the editorial continues. "Mrs. Palin would be more effective if she made some distinctions among the Obama policies that really are worth opposing."
Huckabee, who rose to fame in part by shedding more than 110 pounds as governor and championing anti-obesity legislation, said Palin misunderstood Obama's initiative.
"With all due respect to my colleague and friend Sarah Palin, I think she's misunderstood what Michelle Obama is trying to do," Huckabee told New York talk radio host Curtis Sliwa in an interview last week. "Michelle Obama's not trying to tell people what to eat or trying to force the government's desires on people, but she's stating the obvious: that we do have an obesity crisis in this country ... The first lady's campaign is on target. It's not saying that you can't or should never eat a dessert."
While both Huckabee and the Journal were critical of the former GOP vice presidential candidate for likening Michelle Obama's campaign to a "nanny state run amok," Palin also has come under fire from other conservatives over a host of issues. The criticism highlights the challenges Palin would face if she does try to win the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer questioned her policy bona fides, saying on ABC News that he had hoped she would spend the years after the 2008 campaign "getting real deep into policy ... She hasn't."
Former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough, now a political morning show host on MSNBC, criticized Palin for starring on a reality television program, in which Palin went camping with Kate Gosselin, the celebrity magazine regular. Scarborough said the problem for Republicans is that the most talked-about figure in the GOP is Palin, whom he described as a "reality show star who cannot be elected."
But it is the attacks on the first lady's initiative that have stirred the most consistent criticism.
"Could anyone really be against children eating healthier food and getting more exercise?” asked Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt in a column published on Monday.
"Could anyone really object to White House assistant chef Sam Kass trying to interest Elmo in a vegetable-laden burrito?
"Well, yes, if Michelle Obama is for it, someone will be against it. Someone like Glenn Beck, for example, who was moved to rail against carrot sticks, or Sarah Palin, who warned that Obama wants to deprive us all of dessert."
Republican strategist John Feehery, a contributor to The Hill's Pundits Blog, joined in the criticism on Monday.
"It was Abraham Lincoln who said that it is better to be silent and be thought a fool than it is to speak up and remove all doubt," he told The Hill. "Palin, the more she speaks out on topics like this, the more she is removing all doubt."
Palin has used her reality TV show, "Sarah Palin’s Alaska," to attack the anti-obesity initiative. Reaching for s’mores ingredients during a family camping trip, she said she would make the treats "in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert."
Palin also made headlines when she brought cookies to a Pennsylvania school fundraiser.
"I had to shake it up a little bit because I heard there is a debate going on in Pennsylvania over whether most schools condemn sweets, cakes, cookies, that type of thing," Palin said at the time. "I brought dozens and dozens of cookies to these students."
Those comments came as the Pennsylvania State Board of Education was considering a proposal to encourage schools to limit the amount of sweets in classroom parties and reduce the number of holiday and birthday celebrations.
Palin's criticism of the first lady has been popular on right-wing blogs, which view Democrats in the White House and in Congress as trying to take over private life with broad reforms of healthcare, environmental and financial policy.
Critics of the White House’s anti-obesity efforts say they could open the way to more regulations down the line, especially since Democrats’ healthcare reform law and its subsidies create added incentives for the federal government to cut medical costs by keeping Americans healthier.
The free-market website FutureOfCapitalism.com chided the Journal for "inexplicably" siding with Obama. It also took issue with the editorial's statement that the first lady has "so far eschewed the coercion of the public health lobby, like junk food regulation and taxes and advertising restrictions."
The site points out that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Feb. 19 announced $250 million in tax credits for the purpose of building projects such as healthier grocery stores. Geithner also announced $25 million in grants for community development institutions at the time.
"For those of us out in the real economy trying to start businesses without the benefit of Treasury grants or 39 percent tax credits — well, let's just say that from here it looks like Sarah Palin understands what Michelle Obama and Timothy Geithner are up to a whole lot better than do the editorial writers of The Wall Street Journal," the site wrote.
The debate heated up last month as Congress was considering a $4.5 billion childhood nutrition program, backed by Michelle Obama, that expands eligibility for school meals programs, establishes nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools and provides a six-cent increase for each school lunch to help cafeterias serve healthier meals. The bill cleared the Senate unanimously in August and easily passed the House, 264-157, earlier this month.
To conservatives like Huckabee, Palin's criticism seems to miss the point that the first lady is going after a real American problem.
The percentage of American adults who are obese (more than 20 percent over their ideal weight) has more than doubled over the past 30 years (from 15 percent to 34), with another 34 percent overweight according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children and teenagers have also been getting fatter (17 percent are now obese, up from 5 percent three decades ago), increasing their risks for diabetes and heart disease.
The epidemic also adds quantifiable costs to the nation’s healthcare system, perhaps as much as $147 billion in 2008, according to a recent study in the policy journal Health Affairs.
Anti-obesity advocates say all the talk about personal responsibility amounts to little more than wishful thinking when children are bombarded with fast-food marketing and junk food in schools at the same time that healthier choices aren't easily accessible in many poorer neighborhoods.