Low Concept

Field of Greens

The dreaded broccoli uprising and other freaky GOP nightmares.

The asparagus are coming!

When the socialist revolution comes, the first shot will not come from filthy peasants bearing flaming torches or angry, poorly dressed workers demanding higher wages. No, listening to the anti-government chatter these days, it’s clear that the new socialist revolution will be spearheaded by a lone asparagus.

The vegetables are coming, my friends. Green, gassy, fibrous vegetables. They aren’t buttered. Or salted. And this time, they mean business.

Last week, flush with his victory in a lawsuit challenging the president’s health care initiative, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced gravely that “if we cross this line with health care now—this unconstitutional line—where the government can force us to buy a private product and say it’s for our own good, then we’ll have given the government the power to force us to buy other products: cars, gym memberships, asparagus. The list goes on.” Broccoli? Belgian endive? The list indeed goes on.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Cuccinelli’s rhetorical choice perfectly echoed a question federal Judge Henry Hudson posed to the Obama administration during the October argument of the case Cuccinelli just won, as Hudson wondered aloud at the time whether the government could require people “to buy a car, to join a gym, to eat asparagus.”

Using the same logic, columnist George Will conjured the dread specter of the state brandishing broccoli when he wrote at the start of this month that if congressional power to regulate interstate commerce “is infinitely elastic, Congress can do anything—eat your broccoli, or else—and America no longer has a limited government.” Don’t think there’s anything that sinister about broccoli, friends? Think again. That broccoli is just a front for the New World Order.

Think about it. If the asparagus and broccoli are really coming to knock down our doors and kidnap our children, can helicopters loaded with cauliflower really be that far behind? And what of the eggplant in night-vision goggles? If we’re soon to be governed by a totalitarian taxonomy of toxic greens, who—one wonders—will sound the warning against the tyrannical field peas?

Some government critics are less specific than Cuccinelli in their vegetable-takeover threats. For them, all leafy greens are created equal, and each carries a broad, if unspecified, danger. For such critics, green vegetables are more anti-liberty than antioxidant. So here is Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., boldly speaking out against the dread generic-fruit-and-vegetable at a town hall meeting last October: “The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said people in America are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. They want to give all the power to the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables. This is what the federal, CDC, they gonna be calling you to make sure you eat fruits and vegetables, every day. This is socialism of the highest order!”

If, like me, you are surprised to learn that your mother, your grandmother, and that kindly little cucumber from Veggie Tales were all committed socialists of the highest order, that’s just because you haven’t yet clued in to their nefarious plan.

When, at her July confirmation hearings, Elena Kagan failed to dispel the Hudson/Broun/Cuccinelli claim that the socialist revolution will come with balsamic on the side, the deal was sealed. When pinned down by a glassy-eyed Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on the not-so-hypothetical question of whether Congress could actually pass a law forcing Americans to eat “three fruits and three vegetables every day,” Kagan replied that it just sounded like a “dumb law.” This was seen by some conservatives as the greatest gotcha moment in Commerce Clause history. Clearly, the despotic liberal project of force-feeding Americans vegetables has moved past the planning stages and into reality. They’re coming to get your children, America, and they’re coming by way of the salad bar.

If ever a revolution were being fomented from the ground up, this is it.

What is it about conservatives and their fear of vegetables? And how did those selfsame politicians who purport to be from “agriculture states” reconcile that fact with their bottomless hatred of all things that grow in the ground? Al Franken famously mused that Republicans have never forgiven liberals for “Freedom Riding, bra burning, pot smoking, free-loving, tree-hugging, draft-dodging, Woodstock-attending, Woodstock-overdosing, God not-fearing, and carrot cake. They’ve never forgiven us for carrot cake.” Some say this all started when President Ronald Reagan first embraced ketchup as a vegetable and culminated when George H.W. Bush famously banned suspicious greens from Air Force One by proclaiming, Sam-I-am-like, that: ”I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”

By then, the lines in the national vegetable wars were clearly drawn. In 1988, Dan Quayle hoisted Michael Dukakis on the end of a Belgian endive, claiming that the former Massachusetts governor was an out-of-touch vegetable elitist. (Not only was Dukakis telling Iowa farmers to grow an obscure and leafy green, he was also subtly suggesting that foreign vegetables were better than domestic ones.) President Obama took yet more Republican heat in the summer of 2007 for suggesting that farmers in Iowa might have checked out the price of arugula. Arugula! They’re still reeling from that one over at Fox and Friends, where the word arugula is code for “violent Nazi-style total world dominion.”

There’s a long, illustrious pedigree to the political food smear. Consider this classic 2004 attack ad, describing Howard Dean as a “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show.”

To be sure, a goodly amount of the conservative complaints about healthy food are thinly veiled slurs on women in general and Michelle Obama in particular. Last week, Sarah Palin lectured Laura Ingraham on the first lady’s socialist plot to promote healthy eating: “Take her anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat.” And when Rush Limbaugh goes after Michelle Obama for the same reasons, he doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that he hates her for being a woman (note his classy references to her wardrobe and to “Michelle My Butt”) as much as for her love of vegetables (“Gotta eat healthy stuff, gotta eat the garbage that she grows in the garden, nothing but fruits and vegetables”).

Come to think of it, the very word “nanny state”—so frequently linked to GOP anti-vegetablist rhetoric—suggests that, much like George H.W. Bush, what most Republicans are really trying to work through with all this veggie fear-mongering, is their issues with their mothers.

Look, you’re not going to get me to say a single nice word about green vegetables. I think maybe Gertrude Stein said it best when she reminded us that “a vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.” But if you really believe that the president plans to initiate a new world order by way of healthy field greens, it’s also possible that you’re a little bananas. 

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.