Actually, Huck, It's Palin Who Gets It

David Harsanyi

12/24/2010 12:01:00 AM - David Harsanyi
Two names frequently bandied about as potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates engaged in a minor but revealing squabble this week.

During what I assume was an action-packed episode of "Sarah Palin's Alaska" on TLC, the former vice presidential candidate poked some gentle fun at first lady Michelle Obama's ubiquitous children's health crusade.

And this wasn't the first time Palin had disparaged the campaign and the school nutrition food bill that comes attached to it.

As you would expect, duty beckoned enlightened Americans everywhere to run to their keyboards and ridicule Palin. The few rational Republicans left in the country were called to action and gently explained to this crazy woman that children are the future -- which, evolutionarily speaking, is indisputable.

"With all due respect to my colleague and friend Sarah Palin, I think she's misunderstood what Michelle Obama is trying to do," retorted the once generously proportioned Mike Huckabee on a New York radio show. Obama, explained the former Arkansas governor, is "not trying to tell people what to eat or not trying to force the government's desires on people. She's stating the obvious, that we do have an obesity problem in this country."

(More like overstating the obvious, but that's another story.)

In this case, Huckabee is either confused or, judging from his prior work, the kind of guy who dismisses the distinction between convincing someone and coercing someone. Especially in those historical moments when "something needs to be done," which, as you know, can be often.

Now, if you believe, as the Obamas and countless others do, that local control and parental choice are disposable when the common good is threatened, then empowering Washington to dictate which foods are appropriate in bake sales, PTA functions and local school cafeterias probably sounds like a fantastic idea.

But the recently passed nutrition bill (the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, in Washingtonese), a key component to Mrs. Obama's plan to "end childhood obesity," is in fact both "telling people" what they should eat and "trying to force the government's desires on people."

So when Palin claims that the Obamas do not trust people "to make decisions for their own children," she is not unleashing some Bircher hyperbole; she is summing up the driving idea of two years of public policy and paraphrasing the first lady, who recently explained that when it comes to eating, "we can't just leave it up to the parents."

Mrs. Obama might be stating the obvious, but instead of placing the blame on parental incompetence or neglect or genes or whatever the reason is that kids are stuffing their little gullets with junk, she is feeding and creating myths to rationalize "action" -- whether we're talking about the lack of access to food (never have we had more access to food) or prohibitive prices (never has food -- including healthy fare -- been cheaper) or the plague of school lunches.

As for Huckabee, his history of intrusive legislation and alarmism over the crumbling salubriousness of the nation is obviously driven by his own experiences. And if you want to nag us or explain the ramifications of obesity, feel free. Certainly, potential presidents should have the ability to compromise, avoid ideological rigidity and be cognizant of national problems like obesity.

But foundational beliefs like an aversion to federal overreach into local decisions cannot be disposed of because kids happen to be part of the equation. And if Huckabee believes there's nothing wrong with the federal government controlling local school lunches and instituting national smoking bans, how many issues will he believe are more important than federalism?

Now, Sarah Palin may not always be the most sophisticated spokesperson for conservative ideology, but she is right on the money here. In fact, with all the sneering about her comments, she may want to turn to one of her favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, who also understood that "moral busybodies" who "torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."