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(As usual, the agreement with syndicators means this column appears a week after its newspaper release)


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By now, possibly you've heard that “eat healthy” Michelle Obama was spotted at a baseball game ordering a milkshake, burger and french fries -- along with a Diet Coke, probably to assuage the guilt. She was busted by a Washington Post reporter who tallied the calorie count at 1,700.

The far-right, eat-UNhealthy crowd has gone bananas, and not the high-potassium kind. They are heaping scorn on the first lady for hypocrisy. Maybe, though, we should give her a serving of sympathy.

Her husband recently nagged his fellow debt-crisis negotiators that it is time to “eat our peas,” meaning they need to make huge decisions about budget cuts that are extremely unpalatable. (Imagine how many times she's heard the same “peas” line at home.) The budget talks got downright snippy. The president obviously left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Obama are participating in efforts to reduce the nation's unhealthy fat. Both are caught up in bitter controversy.

The first lady's various nutrition and exercise initiatives bring squeals of “nanny state” and “government intrusion” from anyone seeking a rhetorical advantage and anyone who gets campaign support from food-industry giants who market a lot of dangerous products.

Similarly, the president has slammed into a Republican Party that has become a subsidiary of the tea party. T.P. is controlled by those who insist that before they'll go along and increase the nation's borrowing limit, there must be an agreement to slash trillions of dollars from even the most fundamental social programs. They sneer at compromise even in the face of a first-ever default by the United States of America. Reduce everything, they demand, except when it comes to losing body weight.


Mrs. Obama might have to increase her workouts to burn off those 1,700 calories, but the debt talks are struggling to work out much of anything. They're such an exercise in futility, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has come up with a no-sweat alternative.

It amounts to giving up on any bargain to erase the debt and make it relatively easy for President Barack Obama to raise the borrowing limit with limited participation by Congress. That amounts to skipping the peas and replacing the menu. The president, under this scenario, will cook up new borrowing in the White House kitchen and will take most of the heat for doing so.

Like so many concoctions by the Machiavellian McConnell, this one is insidiously clever. Not only would financial disaster be averted, but the Republicans would get some credit for it. Under previous scenarios, where Obama was forcing negotiations, any agreement would accrue to him, and that would smack right into McConnell's famous priority: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Barack Obama, who is hellbent on being a two-termer, is trying to present himself as the voice of reason confronting the din of Republicans gone wild. Lost in all this is the all-important need to come up with a rescue of some sort, a deal that permits the nation's borrowing authority to be raised by Aug. 2, or risk seriously weakening the stature of this proud nation.

One would think avoiding such consequences would be an undeniably laudatory goal, in the same way that tackling personal flabbinesss should be. But both are complicated, because debt-ceiling budget negotiations and the message to “eat your vegetables” are consumed by mealy-mouthed politics.

There are dissimilarities, too. Quick: What's the differences between the diet Michelle Obama suggests and extremist misrepresentations in the budget fight? Well, the food can be prepared in Crock-Pots. The distortions are cooked up by crackpots.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


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