Mixing Sweet and Tart
By Alec MacGillis
AKRON, Ohio -- As Republicans sharpen their knives to carve up Barack Obama as a wild-eyed lefty, the Illinois senator is dropping hints that his liberalism has limits. At a news conference today that focused primarily on the day's attacks from Hillary Clinton, Obama sounded a decidedly moderate note when discussing two American icons: Ralph Nader and soda pop.
Asked about the prospect of Nader running as a third-party candidate in November, Obama said that he believed that "anyone has the right to run for president if they file sufficient papers" and that the "job of the Democratic Party is to be so compelling" that only a handful of votes are lost to a third-party alternative.
But when pressed about criticisms Nader has made of his platform, Obama took a gentle but unmistakable swipe at the legendary consumer advocate.
"My sense is that Mr. Nader is somebody who, if you don't listen and adopt all of his policies, thinks you're not substantive," Obama said with a smile. "He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work."
He added, "Now by the way, we have to say that historically he is a singular figure in American politics and has done as much as just about anyone for consumers. ... I don't mean to diminish that." But he closed with another little shot: "There's a sense now that if someone's not hewing to the Ralph Nader agenda, he says they're lacking in some way."
With the very next question, Obama got a chance to distance himself from his party's nanny-state rap: Would he be willing as president to act against the prevalence of soda machines in schools? In an unusually expansive answer, Obama said he believed in charting a middle course on such an issue, citing his own life as an example.
"I would like to see schools reexamine how easily they make soda available," he said. But then he quickly made clear that he was no stickler on the point, joking that when he was in school, he was "chugging down three or four Mountains Dews a day, along with a Twinkie." "Nobody told me at the time it was all caffeine," he said, laughing. "No wonder I was always jittery in class." He went on. "We survived, drinking soda pop. I don't think there's anything wrong with having a soda once in while."
He got serious again for a minute, saying that in light of the rise in child obesity and adult diabetes in children, it may not be a bad thing to think about ways to keep kids from "consuming vast amounts of soft drinks chock full of corn syrup." But then he stepped back once more, saying, "I don't think we have to be extremists."
"With our own daughters, we try not to make them obsessive about food -- if they want an ice cream once in a while, if they want pop, they can have it," he said. "The question is, given the amount of time kids spend in school, working with those schools to encourage better health habits for our kids is something sensible and has to be part of our health agenda."
Left unmentioned was the obvious: How much would it undermine that public health agenda for kids to know that Barack Obama drank three Mountain Dews a day as a kid, yet still grew into a svelte and healthy man with a shot at becoming president of the United States?
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