It is exceedingly smart for the President to tackle food safety in his weekly address. The Twitterers in Washington will yelp "But how can he take on something ELSE?" But I'm going to go ahead and guess that 100% of Americans eat food. And the e. coli conservatism of the Bush years had a real and profound effect on people. There's a lady on my street who I see walking my dog every now and again, and one of her dogs died from the melamine scandal a couple years back. Here in California, the tainted spinach scare of 2007 cost the state's farmers hundreds of millions of dollars. It's astonishing that we have had to worry for so long about the quality of the food we purchase, and it contributes to this anti-government backlash that they are incompetent and unable to deal with even core functions.
And that was true - under an executive branch that didn't regulate and didn't care about food safety. But this executive branch will. And Obama's opening paragraph of his weekly address signals that government is vital and needs to be treated with seriousness and respect.
I’ve often said that I don’t believe government has the answer to every problem or that it can do all things for all people. We are a nation built on the strength of individual initiative. But there are certain things that we can’t do on our own. There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat, and the medicines we take, are safe and don’t cause us harm. That is the mission of our Food and Drug Administration and it is a mission shared by our Department of Agriculture, and a variety of other agencies and offices at just about every level of government.
In the address Obama announced the appointment of Margaret Hamburg as the new head of the FDA. She has a long record in government, including a stint as New York's health commissioner. Her deputy, Joshua Sharfstein, is the Baltimore Health Commissioner. They are serious people who are not former lobbyists or executives of the industries they will regulate, and they will get the proper staffing and funding to actually carry out the mission of the department.
People have lost faith in our institutions. A more competent and successful FDA may seem small, but it's part of an effort to restore trust in government, as the only entity big enough for numerous tasks. Proven ability in making food safer and more secure can lead to proving that government can administer health care or implement a workable system to fight global warming. With e. coli conservatism demonizing the functions of government for so long, it's vital to see some pushback.