When the president was enduring a particularly brutal round of criticism at the height of the health care debate, I mentioned to my mother that a friend said that the only way he'd have a shot at reelection was to personally capture Osama Bin Laden. My mom's reply? "That wouldn't help. His critics would just say 'Of course he 'caught him.' He knew where he was all along!"
I was reminded of her comments last week as conservatives ramped up their criticism of First Lady Michelle Obama for making what is apparently one of the most controversial suggestions ever: That women should maybe -- gasp! -- breastfeed. At that moment I realized that the First Lady could single-handedly home school the entire Washington D.C. student population while teaching Bible study in her spare time, and high-profile conservatives would still try to paint her as unworthy of representing American womanhood in the White House. (Click here for a look at the 5 Most Controversial First Ladies.)
I find it particularly interesting, to say the least, that conservative women, from Sarah Palin to Michelle Bachmann (and at least once upon a time Elisabeth Hasselbeck), insinuated that Obama's one-time campaign trail gaffe and efforts to stem the tide of childhood obesity in this country somehow disqualify her from being an effective First Lady, yet these same women didn't seem to think that Cindy McCain's well documented substance abuse and legal problems disqualified her. Go figure. (And I won't mention Laura Bush's youthful accident because I don't believe it should have disqualified her from having the opportunity to serve us with such grace as First Lady, but you can read about it here. Then take a moment to ask yourself if you honestly believe had this been a part of Michelle Obama's past whether her husband ever would have had a shot at becoming a viable presidential candidate.)
But aside from the racial undertone of some of the criticism (and yes I'm talking about THAT cartoon) what I find most disturbing about this recent chatter is that it actually flies in the face of one of the few conservative principles I wholeheartedly endorse: namely that the only way for America to avoid spending itself into oblivion is to empower people to be accountable for their own futures.
For as far back as I can remember the GOP brand has been one of fiscal responsibility, with Republicans casting themselves as the grownups striving to balance America's checkbook, while misguided liberals spend like drunken sailors. When Republicans regained control of the House their rallying cry seemed to be this: "Mom and Dad may have been out of town for a while, and you used our credit cards to party, but we're back and now you're cut off."
But the only thing I can surmise based on the political posturing of conservatives of the last week is that they actually enjoy spending government money -- and lots of it -- and not just on things you'd expect like wars. How do I know? Because at the moment Republicans are trying their best to thwart programs that end up saving taxpayers significantly in the long run.
Here's what I mean.
Obesity costs America $270 billion dollars a year in lost productivity, increased medical costs, and it costs taxpayers around $50 billion a year. Yet high profile conservatives from Palin to the Micheles (Malkin and Bachmann respectively) spent last week attacking the other Michelle, the First Lady, over her efforts to get more mothers to breastfeed. Despite studies indicating that children breastfed longer have a lower tendency to be obese, and the fact that these ladies breastfed their own children, they pounced. Instead of seeing Obama's call to action for what it is -- a preventative measure that could save us all dough down the road -- they argued it was further proof of her efforts to advocate for the nanny state.
Around the same time, House Republicans (and some Democrats) also voted to defund Planned Parenthood. While Rep. Mike Pence, who pushed the measure, attempted to frame this as another contentious legislative debate over abortion, less than 3% of Planned Parenthood's services actually include pregnancy termination. The bulk of the group's work? Family planning and birth control, which consists of ensuring that as few Americans as possible ever find themselves in the position of contemplating an abortion in the first place. But family planning also ensures that less Americans create families that they will be unable to support. Translation: it helps ensure that less Americans create families that taxpayers will end up supporting in the form of social programs -- the kind of social programs many conservatives have long criticized. In fact, if I remember correctly welfare reform was one of the few measures of the Clinton presidency conservatives cheered on.
I guess that just like the Clinton administration, MC Hammer pants and Vanilla Ice, the facade of conservatives as the party of fiscal responsibility is now a relic of the nineties.
But how much do you want to bet that years from now when the fallout from these ill advised policies is really being felt, they'll find a way to blame the First couple?