Americans are becoming almost as confused about hypocrisy as they are about satire.
Michelle Obama’s Vail, Colorado vacation included taking her daughters out to eat ribs at Vail, and conservative radio critics immediately resorted the “H” word, led by Rush Limbaugh, who reported that the First Lady, fully-involved in an anti-obesity campaign, joined her own children in “feasting on ribs — ribs that were 1,575 calories per serving with 141 grams of fat, per serving.”
As is his way, “El Rushbo” then went out of his way to infuriate Michelle fans by stirring the pot to a lively boil. “Dare I say,” said Limbaugh, “it doesn’t look like the first lady follows her own dietary advice….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, or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you.”
This immediately, as Limbaugh surely intended, set off a volley of return fire by Michelle’s defenders, who argued that it was Limbaugh who was the hypocrite, accusing Michelle of being less than svelte when his own girth fluctuates between enormous and pleasingly plump, and that he was wrong on the facts, since the particular rib dish the First Kiddies shared wasn’t particularly caloric at all.
Who was right? Nobody.
- There is nothing hypocritical about an anti-obesity crusader pigging out on a vacation. One meal doesn’t establish a pattern or an unhealthy lifestyle. If Michelle wants to have a big sloppy rib dish a couple of times a year, it has no bearing on her credibility as an advocate for healthy eating, and there is no hypocrisy involved.
- Michelle doesn’t have to look like Calista Flockhart to promote low-calorie meals. Low calorie meals are healthier, and they remain healthier no matter size dress Michelle Obama wears. Yes, making healthy meals her mission unavoidably makes Obama a role model, and she would undermine her own message if she were unhealthy and corpulent, but she isn’t. Limbaugh’s barb was just gratuitous and below-the-belt needling.
- But Rush, while being nasty without cause, was no hypocrite. He is not a healthy food advocate; there is no reason why he needs to be slim and fit to point out that Michelle Obama isn’t supporting her words with her conduct. Using his weight issues to attack his criticism of Obama is exactly as wrong as his criticism of Mrs. Obama.
- Meanwhile, the actual calorie count has no bearing on anything. If the rib dish was as caloric as Limbaugh claimed, there would be nothing the matter with Michelle eating it. Her defenders that rushed to disprove Rush accepted his false premise—that it was hypocritical for Michelle to eat rich foods on a vacation— by doing so. Limbaugh is a genius at laying such traps.
Michelle Obama is the only one who did nothing wrong…with one caveat. The Obamas are both remarkably tone deaf to the apparent inconsistency between their conduct and their rhetoric. All the President’s talk about “doing without” and “skipping that vacation,’ and now Michelle’s healthy eating campaign, do create dissonance when they appear to be acting inconsistently with their words. It doesn’t make them hypocrites, and it doesn’t make them wrong. But perceptions erode credibility and trust. Leaders who want to be followed sometimes need to sacrifice to keep up with appearances for those increasing numbers of the public who don’t understand what hypocrisy is.