Let me summarize first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity agenda: Shed as I say, not as I gain. While she crusades for organic foods and puts government pressure on corporations to stop marketing fast food and junk food to children, Mrs. Obama herself profited from the very same processed food industry she now demonizes.
In June 2005, a few months after her husband was elected to the U.S. Senate, Mrs. Obama hustled a seat on the corporate board of directors of TreeHouse Foods, Inc. Despite zero experience, the food-processing company put her on its audit and nominating and corporate governance committees. For her on-the-job training and the privilege of putting her name and face on their literature, the company forked over $45,000 in 2005 and $51,200 in 2006 to Mrs. Obama — as well as 7,500 TreeHouse stock options worth more than $72,000 for each year.
The chairman of the TreeHouse Foods board, Sam K. Reed, was a top executive at Kellogg’s and Keebler Foods, home of that great menace to children, the Keebler Elf. Before that, he headed up Mother’s Cake and Cookie Company. The conglomerate sells cheese sauces, Cremora non-dairy creamer, instant soup, puddings and powdered soft drink mixes. Hardly the stuff of Mrs. Obama’s new vision of nutritional paradise. TreeHouse is also a leading supplier of pickles used in the burgers of evil fast food chain McDonald’s — exactly the kind of restaurants Mrs. Obama is now targeting in her war on urban “food deserts.”
The corporation-bashing Mrs. Obama would have continued raking in cash if it hadn’t been for her husband’s pesky pledge to pander to Big Labor and swear off Wal-Mart. The retail giant, you see, happened to be TreeHouse’s biggest customer. And Wal-Mart is to Big Labor as sunshine is to Dracula.
In May 2007, Obama told AFL-CIO workers in Trenton, N.J., that Wal-Mart was dead to him. “I won’t shop there,” he pledged, with an eye toward embarrassing then-chief rival Hillary Clinton, who had served on Wal-Mart’s board from 1986-1992. The AFL-CIO has waged relentless attacks on Wal-Mart, dubbing it the “Poster Store for Greed.” That, by extension, would make Mrs. Obama — all-too-happy recipient of a Wal-Mart dependent compensation package worth more than $100,000 in 2008, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records — a Poster Child for Ancillary Avarice.
Candidate Obama shrugged off his wife’s conflict of interest. “Michelle and I have to live in the world and pay taxes and pay for our kids and save for retirement,” Obama explained to Crain’s Chicago Business magazine before his White House bid. Political expediency, alas, required that the candidate’s wife step down when the issue reared its head after Obama’s Wal-Mart bashing during the presidential campaign cycle. True to form, Mrs. Obama turned the decision into an ostentatious display of self-sacrifice:
“As my campaign commitments continue to ramp up, it is becoming more difficult for me to provide the type of focus I would like on my professional responsibilities,” said Chicago’s Joan of Arc in a resignation statement eight days after her husband declared his boycott of the stores stocked with food items processed and distributed by her TreeHouse colleagues. “My priorities, particularly at this important time, are ensuring that our young daughters feel a sense of comfort and normalcy in this process, and that I can support my husband in his presidential campaign to bring much needed change to this country.”
She saw no conflict then. And she sees no conflict now in wielding her East Wing clout to restrict the advertising free speech of the food industry that lined her pocketbook with big, fat paychecks. Give the first lady this: She has an uncanny knack for wrapping her self-interests in the mantle of self-sacrifice and public service. It’s the Obama way.