Presidential History

Sympathy for the President

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Press release of the day:

No photos, please, I'm hungry.

A physicians' nonprofit wants President Barack Obama to stop chowing down on hot dogs in front of news cameras. In a petition being filed on May 10, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asks the White House to issue an executive order banning staged photo opportunities that show the president, the first family, the vice president, and members of the president's cabinet eating unhealthy foods—including processed meats—that can cause cancer and obesity.

"The White House would never set up a photo op showing the president buying cigarettes, so why is it okay to show him eating a hot dog?" says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. "Processed meats like hot dogs kill more Americans each year than tobacco does, and they cost taxpayers billions of dollars in healthcare. As role model to millions of Americans the president has a responsibility to watch what he eats in public."

Since taking office, President Obama has posed for the cameras eating a hot dog at a basketball game with British Prime Minister David Cameron, eating cheeseburgers with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and stopping at a D.C. burger restaurant to share a cheeseburger with a reporter, among other similar instances. His predecessors, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan have also been caught on camera eating unhealthy foods, from ice cream to a Big Mac….Widely publicized photographs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt eating a hot dog are credited with popularizing what once used to be a widely disliked food. Now Americans consume 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year.

The petition is a publicity gimmick, of course; the chances that Obama will issue this executive order are barely higher than the chances he'll greet Election Day with an early-morning pardon for Charlie Manson. I'm blogging it because the sheer concentrated nagging gave me my first twinge of sympathy for the president in nearly four years. It was a novel feeling, and I thought you might get a kick out of experiencing it too.

By the way, that FDR story is actually true, sort of: While hot dogs were already pretty popular when he came along, he did make them more respectable. Daniel Fromson told the tale in The Atlantic last year. Here's my favorite part, from Fromson's description of the pre-Roosevelt era:

Hot dog advocates defended their wares from allegations that the products contained actual dog meat, launching campaigns to change the name to "franks," "red hots," and even "hot pig and cow." There were odder stories, too: A kitten gone berserk after eating a hot dog, or an especially weird New York Times piece, "Scorned a Throne, Now Faces Swahilis' Curse; Hot-Dog Man Gets Ominous Note From Africa."