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Posted at 11:52 AM ET, 12/31/2010

A happy, rational new year

By E.J. Dionne

Happy New Year to all. I won't bore you with my personal New Year's resolutions, but I do hope we might collectively agree (and please don't charge me with "collectivism") that not everything a politician does or says should be politicized and attacked. Sometimes, there really are matters we agree on across partisan and ideological lines.

Take Michelle Obama's campaign against obesity. For goodness sake: Many of us (notably yours truly) need to lose weight, eat better and exercise more. We should especially want our kids to develop good habits when it comes to eating and exercise. Political leaders should talk about this, if only because they might get attention that others won't.

Mike Huckabee was a pioneer in using his public position to encourage people to live healthier lives. He lost something over 100 pounds and wrote a book offering advice to others on how to do the same, "Quit Digging Your Own Grave With a Knife and Fork." One of my sister's Christmas gifts to me in 2006 was a copy of Huckabee's book. (And, by the way, she's a moderately liberal Democrat, so this was a non-partisan gesture.) It was a small nudge in the right direction, and along with persistent kindly nudges from my wife, it had the desired effect.

So I was not at all surprised that Huckabee came out in defense of Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign after his fellow conservative Sarah Palin suggested the First Lady was trying to deprive us all of dessert. (Take a look at Fred Hiatt's nice column on all this.) Oh, come on: Conservatives are especially proud that they always tell us to take personal responsibility. As Huckabee recognized, that's what Michelle Obama is telling us. And one thing I actually admire about Palin -- and I mean this -- is that her career as a basketball player has almost certainly encouraged more girls and young women to aspire to be athletes. Palin keeps fit herself. Shouldn't she encourage others to do so? C'mon, Ms. Palin, listen to your friend Mike and back off your criticisms of Michelle Obama. You could actually save some lives. And it would be a good way to start the new year.

I was moved to write this post because I found myself this week in Hedgesville, West Virginia for a basketball tournament in which my son's high school team was playing. (And congratulations to the taxpayers of that area for building such a beautiful gym as part of a lovely renovation of Hedgesville High School. That sends a powerful message to kids about the importance of education, athletics and exercise.) I picked up a copy of The Journal, a daily newspaper based in Martinsburg, and turned to their lead editorial headlined: "Big Problem: West Virginians gain on the obesity ranking."

What struck me is that there was not a hint of politics in the piece -- no Michelle Obama or Sarah Palin. It was just a sensible, civic-minded plea to West Virginians to get into shape. The editorial also included some useful tips as to where they could turn for encouragement and advice. "Come on, West Virginians," it concluded, "it's time to get healthy."

Lord knows, as I have acknowledged before, I am perfectly capable of politicizing lots of things. But not everything should be politicized. Let's look at problems such as obesity not through the lenses of ideological combat but in the sensible way most Americans do, exemplified by that editorial in The Journal.

And, again, warmest wishes for the new year to people across all lines of party and ideology.

By E.J. Dionne  | December 31, 2010; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Comments

just another poor exercise in judgment by Palin, who opens her mouth before thinking. An anti-obesity campaign in the US shouldn't be viewed as any more partisan than Laura Bush's childhood literacy efforts. Every first lady since lord knows when has done something like this. leave it to Palin to spin it as a big government personal liberty assault.

Posted by: JoeT1 | December 31, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

A wonderful New Year to you too, EJ. May 2011 bring another year of insightful, well-written columns.

Posted by: SmallBusiness | December 31, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Happy New Year to you,too, Mr. Dionne. It is a pleasure to ring out the year with the same note of sensible good cheer we've heard from you throughout.

Posted by: Itzajob | December 31, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

"But not everything should be politicized."

Realy? If that's the case, then why did the telepromter-reading monkey's overweight wife get involved? It's time to get loony liberals and the federal government OUT of education.

Posted by: mgrantham2 | December 31, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, everything CAN be politicized. And it takes persistence and reason to counter those bent on doing damage rather than actual governance.
Honest public service has taken some major hits with the vitriol that's hidden behind the partisan masks during the last few years, the frustrations palpable with virtually everyone having been compromised by so much money, the enormity of the crises, the endless numbers of people affected.
It's been a near impossibility for any of us to maintain a consistent and fair-minded, let alone sane, perspective over the last 36 months and it takes real courage to address the political arena with any regularity and coherence.

Hats off to EJ Dionne and many like him who show up to the task to lend the rest of us a little insight and perspective.

Happy New Year!

Posted by: thanksforfish | December 31, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

The most irrational writer the Washington Post employs is going to wish us a rational new year?

Words can not explain the disdain I hold for E.J. Dionne Jr.

Posted by: FormerDemocrat | December 31, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Stress and obesity are related conditions.

A National Geographic special followed researcher Robert Sapolsky who had studied a troop of baboons for decades. He found that stress hormones varied with the status of the individual. The higher the status, the lower the stress, with the alpha males being the least stressed.

In another study, stress coincided with obesity. The higher the stress, the more the individual exhibited obesity.

The alpha males in the troop were terrible bullies, constantly mounting all of his inferiors, beating, chasing and threatening them.

An interesting development came when some villagers dumped rancid meat on a garbage pile. Only the alpha male and his entourage of male bullies consumed the meat and they died.

The researchers assumed the loss of the alpha male would create chaos in the troop. To the contrary, the stress levels declined in the troop and the individuals began demonstrating more generous and cooperative behavior toward one another.

This certainly has relevance to our society and the authoritarian bullies who claim the right to dictate our behavior. There was a reason that Warpresident Bush was always promoting fear and letting us know that all of our communications were being monitored.

Posted by: motorfriend | December 31, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

"the telepromter-reading monkey's overweight wife "

You mean Ginny Thomas, right??

Posted by: staussfamily | December 31, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

"Words can not explain the disdain I hold for E.J. Dionne Jr."

Oh come on. DJ is like listening to your drunk uncle at a funeral. He should just keep his mouth shut, but you can't make a fuss at the funeral, and you have to admit that he's funny.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | December 31, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Mgrantham2, I pity the sad life you must lead. I suppose that if one gains a sense of power by a childish insult toward the President and his wife, he has a difficult time enjoying life. I hope the new year brings you peace and wisdom.

Posted by: daubry | December 31, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

If by happy and rational,EJ means conservative, that's right. But I doubt if that's what this whiney fembot liberal pinhead means.

Posted by: carlbatey | December 31, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

lets limit sugar in foods and drinks to no more than 10 grams per serving instead of the 28 to 38 we are currently getting...
and special emphasis on foods in supermarkets for diabetics...

Posted by: DwightCollins | December 31, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Should the government control what we eat? Are we to give up control of our diet to the government? Huckabee has no problem with it, fine. Others may have problems with it.

Losing weight is easy. Stop eating too much, drink more water, and exercise. Build up your stamina slowly, and you will lose weight.

Most of it is stop shoveling food in your face when you are not hungry.

Stop eating a pint of ice cream before you go to bed.

Posted by: thelaw1 | December 31, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

And EJ, if that is where the government left it, that is, discussing the need for exercise, etc. that would be fine. But we know, don't we, that they can't leave it there. People like the Obamas are compelled to tell us how to live because they know so much more than the rest of us. If they can force us to buy health care, surely they can force us to subscribe to a gym or face fines? Or maybe they'll just fine us if our BMI is too high?

Posted by: termiteavenger | December 31, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

It's true! I felt my energy level improve right away. All because of the weight I lost from "Hypersonic Weight Loss"

Posted by: simonmett | January 1, 2011 2:20 AM | Report abuse

Who knew Jr. could write comedy?

Posted by: drowningpuppies | January 1, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Funny we don't want interfearance by religion and its rules to live by,but we must allow 1 holy political nut case to preach to us,and demand payment for that guidance.Can a liberal have it both ways in the morality sales game?

Posted by: jmounday | January 1, 2011 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I don't think the government is taking over our food habits. I think Michelle Obama is just reinforcing what we all use to be taught as kids. In my childhood home there we never any chips or even soda. Likewise the only treat in my adult family home was sugary cereal on a holiday.
The obese kids of today didn't magically get that way. I don't think they do the weekly food shopping, it would take time away from all the their "couch potato" activities.
Sarah Palin has her own agenda, which is being negative as possible about anything "Obama"
Instead of breaking out the "Smores" maybe she should take a couple of her kids for a jog with her... starting to look like they need it.

Posted by: Helenseinfeld | January 1, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Flog me, I'm fat! Flog me, I'm fat! Flog me flat! Faster! Faster! Aaaaaah...Thanks, Michelle and E.J.

Posted by: elgropo1 | January 1, 2011 11:27 AM | Report abuse

A nice New Year's piece, which is totally non-political in nature, stressing something we should all be able to agree on, and still the neanderthals come out of the wood-work with vile insults. Those who run these boards need to come up with a New Year's resolution: Anyone who posts a comment that does nothing to further the discussion, and is only a vicious ad-hominem attack, will have their posting deleted. To all people of good will, a very Happy New Year.

Posted by: bienefes | January 1, 2011 11:34 AM | Report abuse

An awareness campaign against Obesity is a good thing. Government control over your life and what you can and cannot eat is not. This is what Michelle Obama and the left are working towards just chipping away at personal responsability and in the end self worth. We see how well that has worked in our inner cities.

Posted by: Pilot1 | January 1, 2011 11:43 AM | Report abuse

We must recognize Palin for what she is (besides being a poor shot and an ill-informed half governor). She is above all a smear artist who will use any issue or descend into any gutter to defame a Democrat. This was evident in her first big speech at the Republican national convention as she and other GOP leaders mocked Obama as a community organizer. Oh, how she sucks.

Posted by: DWSouthern | January 1, 2011 12:04 PM | Report abuse

The post above about baboon stress levels and bullying alpha males was intriguing. Is it possible we can dump the equivalent of rancid meat along Wall Street?

Posted by: mthand111 | January 1, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I didn't need Michelle for awareness of this issue. I've been fat for a long time. I've tried everything but diet and exercise.

Posted by: alexandria6351 | January 1, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Hillary Clinton told us we needed a village to rear our children.


Michelle Obama & San Francisco tells us government knows better when it comes ot feeding our children.


They are both wrong. What it really takes is two good parents (or one really superhuman parent) who want only the best for their children...and are willing to do whatever it takes. That means buying only healthy food, preparing said food and making sure the kids eat said food. It also means telling the kids to put down the Xbox controller, get up from the couch and go outside to play like children had been doing up until the last 20 years or so.


When I was a short-fry (the '60s), there were 1-2 kids in any given classroom who were overweight. It was rare to see anyone who was grossly overweight. Today...heck, half the kids in K-12 could stand to lose about 20% of their body-weight.


We could develop a new national program on eating, spend billions each year.....and get diddly in return for the funds.


Think I'm wrong? Remind how much we get from the trillions we've spent on education over the past 20-30 years.

Posted by: abbymacd | January 1, 2011 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Right, Michelle just wants to convince kids to eat better? And encourage "personal responsibility".

How do you convince someone of something? Pass a law.

Like the "HEALTHY, HUNGER-FREE KIDS ACT OF 2010".

And what sort of persuasion do you use?

"Gives USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the “a la carte” lunch lines, and school stores."

You put the Federal Government in direct control of every scrap of food that can possibly be sold or served in every school across the nation. Only by federal control can you "persuade".

But I'm probably wrong, getting my information from a poor source.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/Child_Nutrition_Fact_Sheet_12_10_10.pdf

Trusting the White House Fact Sheet is likely a bad mistake. They're a right-wing partisan attack site, right?

Hey, lets persuade some "personal responsibility" in carpooling by making the Federal Government in direct control of when where and how you can drive, and how many passengers you're required to have. Only by passing a law and giving the Federal Government complete control over your lives can you show "personal responsibility" now...

Or a law with mandatory exercise for all citizens. Only by giving the Federal Government control over something can we show "personal responsibility"... according to the new liberal linguistic rules.

Can I get one of those new dictionaries you're using? These words have different meanings in my old dictionary.

Posted by: gekkobear1 | January 2, 2011 4:00 AM | Report abuse

Thank God for the Tea Party passion and Conservative mid-term sweep! A degree of rationality returns to US government!

Posted by: 2012frank | January 2, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

As a group, liberals are the most outrageously maddening hypocrites on earth. When they hold control over Congress, it's "We won the election, so eat it, conservatives!" Now that Republicans are about to take over The House, suddenly the chorus from the left is that we all need to work together in a calm, mature, bipartisan manner. When a Republican is in the White House, every move by any member of the family is scrutinized and criticized mercilessly (remember how "stupid" and "pointless" Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No to Drugs" campaign was?) But when there's a (oh, heck, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt) Democrat in the White House - well, then, by all means, let's all be RATIONAL. Sure, you bet.

Posted by: crwcpa | January 2, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

As a rep I have no issue with Michelle Obama talking about the obesity issue, especially in the context of our children. ALL first ladies take up some sort of cause. My issue is with the constant push for legislation on the left for everything.

It's really not the government's business to legislate behavior, and when it comes to our kids, it's doubly important to have the government out of our business. Government should not take on the role of parent. Parents should parent.

If it stopped with encouragement and advocacy, I'd be fine with it. When you start telling schools that they can't fundraise with sweets (and other such actions), then it's over the line.

Doesn't matter if she's right or wrong, what matters is that it's really not her place (or that of any government official) to mandate how we live our lives.

It's perfectly fine to think that you're 'right', 'correct' or whatever and make those choices for your family, and even stand up as an example as to how to do something 'right'. It's not fine to say "I will pass laws so that I can be the one to decide how to run your family".

It's at that point, the rubber meets the road. It's absolutely not the role of government to take away a person's freedom to act in such personal matters. And the hubris that it takes to step over that line is concerning.

Get out of my personal life, get out of my refrigerator. Get out of our schools, just get out. Enough. We heard you and now as supposedly 'free' adults, we will make our choices for ourselves.

The problem is, people are arguing about the wrong things in the media. Again, it matters not if Michelle's ideas are good ones, what matters more is whether or not we still have the freedom to choose how to live our own lives.

And this will be one of many reasons why it's probable that this administration will last one term.

Posted by: Geepers1 | January 2, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

EJ, you utterly miss the point of Sarah Palin's objection. She objects to the government controlling what people get to eat. When the government decides what food can be offered in schools or at McDonald's, government has gone far beyond its proper role. If a government official wants to offer advice, then as long as they don't use government resources, that's fine. They should, of course, remember that not all advice is welcomed.
What they should not do is attempt to control what a free people can decide on their own.

Posted by: jy151310 | January 2, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

This was Sarah's worst cheap shot - lots of collateral damage. In her continuing search for things to mock or criticize, Sarah cut across all party lines and ideologies. She also hit any parent who's concerned about their overweight child, overweight people (esp those who've made effort to lose weight to get healthy), doctors, dentists (sugar damage), diabetes associates, the military (25% of applicants are too fat to qualify), as well as not considering long-term obesity-related health costs. In her effort to elevate her ego by cutting at others, she's pulled those with the same immature attitude closer to her, but alienated a majority of voters. No other politician has behaved this way - I guess one still hasn't because Sarah's not really a politician.

Posted by: chris76543 | January 2, 2011 11:13 PM | Report abuse

jy:"EJ, you utterly miss the point of Sarah Palin's objection. She objects to the government controlling what people get to eat. When the government decides what food can be offered in schools or at McDonald's, government has gone far beyond its proper role."

And I think you are missing a point. Sarah took this shot ONLY because the promoter was Michelle Obama. The anti-obesity program is no different from fitness or reading programs promoted by other presidents or their wives. No one is going to shut down McDs, but the government may not fund unhealthy school foods, or stock junk food in vending machines.

Posted by: chris76543 | January 2, 2011 11:19 PM | Report abuse

gekko:"How do you convince someone of something? Pass a law. Like the "HEALTHY, HUNGER-FREE KIDS ACT OF 2010"."

This is why no one takes Teabaggers seriously - they tend to go over the edge. Don't worry ... Jack Booted Thugs will NOT be breaking down doors to confiscate Twinkies.

Posted by: chris76543 | January 2, 2011 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone noticed Sarah has disappeared since Christmas Eve? No Twitter or Facebook comments since she wished everyone a Merry Christmas. It's not like Sarah to ignore the recent Michael Vick and Snooki trash. Maybe enjoying the holidays, but I'd expect a Happy New Year to fans. Maybe helping Bristol pack. Or maybe she imploded.

Posted by: chris76543 | January 2, 2011 11:30 PM | Report abuse

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL! Now let's imagine Sarah Palin had made no such remark...can't you see the news frenzy "SARAH PALIN DILIBERATELY PUSHES SWEETS TO CHILDREN IN PROTEST OF MICHELLE OBAMA'S ANTI-OBESITY CAMPAIGN" or maybe ...just maybe Sarah was imagining such headlines.
But then again maybe Sarah was thinking along the lines of this President, a Professor that taught Saul Alinsky tactics, who in his book said he sought out and aligned himself with Marxist, Socialist, and Communist, ...this President's wife just might be using such a tactic called "nudging" to control our food consumption in America. Surely many of the Czars he has appointed so admire Mao who starved millions of his own people purposely. Maybe Sarah sees what the liberal law makers have done in San Francisco by banning Happy Meals and forcing them to offer fruits and veggies to kids and considering Mayor Bloomberg wanting to ban salt in all restaurants in NYC maybe Sarah thinks this administration is nudging toward over-stepping its boundaries and using the sweet and gracious mother and wife of our President to begin the nudging. You think?

Posted by: ParkerRules | January 3, 2011 4:01 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry Chris76543 where exactly was I wrong?

Did I accurately name the bill just signed into law? Yep, copied it form the fact sheet (hence the all caps, at the top of the PDF where I copied it from).

Did I accurately state what the law does? Yep, copied it from the fact sheet as well.

Where did I get the fact sheet? The White House website, as I linked.

So what part of my post was wrong?
Is the White House Fact Sheet "over the edge" as well?
Are the White House employees "teabaggers"?
Is quoting them accurately inappropriate?

Oh, you're saying they'll never do what the law expressly says they're now required to do. And I'm the crazy one?

Maybe go read the link... don't worry it's a Democratic President's White House website so you'll be safe from conservative cooties. Maybe a bit of information might let you understand what the law actually does.

Unless information is bad as well.

Posted by: gekkobear1 | January 3, 2011 7:10 AM | Report abuse

"lets limit sugar in foods and drinks to no more than 10 grams per serving instead of the 28 to 38 we are currently getting...


Posted by: DwightCollins | December 31, 2010 6:44 PM"
________________________________________

The real problem are people who would respond to this kind of comment with "quit politicizing everything!!!" as though what is contained is political and not an important observation about a major flaw in our markets (they are fixed).

I've said it before and I'll say it again: as soon as you stop looking at the economics of the situation, you lose sight of what the real issues are.

Posted by: Patzer111 | January 3, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

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