When the ‘Blame Obama First’ crowd goes overboard

WHEN THE ‘BLAME OBAMA FIRST’ CROWD GOES OVERBOARD…. Visitors to the Daily Caller‘s website today were greeted with a remarkable headline: “First Lady’s Anti-Obesity Campaign Could Be Causing More Pedestrian Deaths.” The accompanying piece was entirely serious.

Pedestrian deaths increased sharply during the first half of 2010, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). On Wednesday, the Executive Director of the GHSA accused the first lady’s obesity program of causing the deaths by encouraging people to exercise.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha said that while there are not yet definitive answers as to why there were more pedestrian deaths in 2010 than 2009, Obama’s “get moving” movement could be at least partially to blame.

“There’s an emphasis these days to getting fit, and I think people doing that are more exposed to risk [of getting hit by a vehicle],” Harsha told the Examiner. “Obviously, further study is needed.”

Harsha also said electronic devices such as cell phones and iPods could have contributed to the higher death rate.

This extremely silly argument apparently originated with the conservative Washington Examiner, which initially quoted the GHSA’s Harsha, but the Daily Caller picking up on this helped bring a lot of additional attention to the “story.”

There some fairly dramatic problems with this. For example, Harsha insists she was misquoted. “If [people] do walk more, they need to be aware of their surroundings and do so in a safe manner,” she told The Atlantic. But we support the goal of getting people to be more active.”

What’s more, there is no “sharp” increase. Pedestrian deaths went from 1,884 to 1,891 nationwide. That’s an increase of seven — not seven percent, seven individual people.

But putting these details aside, it’s worth appreciating the fact that we’ve reached an unfortunate point. In addition to all of the various political criticisms, blaming the White House for all sorts of odd things, we now have major conservative outlets advancing an argument that indirectly blames the First Lady for pedestrian traffic deaths. Our discourse really has to be better than this.

Sarah Goodyear’s conclusion, meanwhile, was probably the most amusing reaction to all of this: “There are a lot of things to hate about this story: The reflexive demonization of the First Lady. The manufacturing of a trend out of very thin statistical fabric. The blaming of victims who can’t defend themselves. But what might be most depressing about the whole ridiculous thing is that in this country, merely wanting to walk from one place to another can qualify you as being ‘into physical fitness.'”