An outfit that advocates the provision of vegetarian and/or vegen lunch options to all public school children recently paid to put up posters in the Washington D.C. subway station nearest to the Capitol (Union Station). The posters feature a cute 8-year-old girl — a vegetarian who attends a public school in Miami — with a thought bubble saying: “President Obama’s daughters get healthy school lunches. Why don’t I?” At the bottom, the ad urges Congress to “Reform the Child Nutrition Act.”
The White House took offense to this ad and called on the advocacy group — Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — to take the posters down. It argued that the president’s children are “off-limits.” The group has so far refused the White House’s request.
I don’t believe that the government has an obligation to provide vegetarian or vegen lunches to all school children, just as I don’t believe that the government has an obligation to provide health care to all Americans. Nor am I offended that the well-to-do tend to receive better lunch options for their kids and better health care for themselves and their families. But there are people who see such arrangements as unjust and, depending on the context, President Obama seems to be one of them.
These people obviously have a right to state their case. And I see nothing wrong with stating it by pointing to out that the president’s children are among those who occupy a superior position at lunchtime.
The White House is correct, of course, that the president’s children should not be attacked or criticized in the course of a political debate. But the ad in question does not attack or criticize them for havng more lunch options; it does not even attack the Obamas for sending their kids to a school that offers such options. It simply expresses displeasure that many children are not as fortunate.
Politicians are sometimes criticized for sending their kids to toney private schools while opposing measures that provide poor parents with the means to escape failing public schools. That, I think, is a fair argument, but the ad in question doesn’t go that far.
President Obama seems pretty thin-skinned and rather quick to tell people what arguments doesn’t want people to make. This is probably a good thing for those of us who hope he will serve only one term.
UPDATE: Eugene Volokh notes that, according to the advocacy group, the White House Counsel’s office implied that that there could be legal action if the ad wasn’t taken down. As Volokh explains, the speech in question is protected by the First Amendment, and in any event not an infringement of the so-called “right of publicity” on which the Obamas would have to base a legal claim.
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