The Presidential Cookie Bake-off

September 26th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Is this election-year ritual all in good fun or unnecessary?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Since 1992, Family Circle’s Presidential Cookie Bake-Off has pitted First Lady against potential First Lady in a fierce cookie popularity contest. During each campaign, the magazine publishes the recipes from both contestants. Readers are asked to bake each type of cookie and vote for their favorite on Family Circle’s Facebook page by August 15th. This year, Ann Romney’s M&M cookies go head-to-head with Michelle Obama’s white and dark chocolate-chip cookies.

According to Today Show food contributor Jillian Eugenios, the winner is a fairly accurate predictor of the campaign. In 2008, Cindy McCain’s oatmeal butterscotch cookie recipe beat out Michelle Obama’s shortbread cookies, making McCain the only winner in Family Circle cookie contest history not destined for the White House. As Eugenios describes the action, “The cookie-off first took place in 1992, when Hillary Clinton’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies went head-to-head with Barbara Bush’s classic chocolate chip recipe. Clinton won, and she was back at it again in 1996. She stuck to her guns…taking on Elizabeth Dole’s pecan rolls.”

Of course, it was also during her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign that Clinton infamously remarked that she “could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas” instead of becoming a high-powered lawyer. At the time, conservative columnist William Safire targeted Clinton as appearing to show contempt for women who work at home. To “rebuild her shrewish image,” as New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait puts it, “She participated in the cookie contest, announcing her lifelong love of baking and casting herself as a more traditional first lady who would concern herself primarily with children’s issues.” Much like quizzing candidates on the price of a gallon of milk, it appears that all candidates’ wives must participate in the cookie contest, Chait says, “on pain of being declared Out of Touch With Middle America.”

Since the contest began, more than 19 million readers have baked and taste-tested the recipes. Still, critics seem split on whether this is all in good fun, or as Chait puts it, a “drearily demeaning ritual.” After all, Michelle Obama is a Harvard-educated lawyer, First Lady (and children’s health advocate), and Ann Romney is a multi-millionaire equestrienne and horse enthusiast with a dressage horse competing in this year’s Olympics. Should we care that they’re being put through their domestic paces to show that they’re in touch with the American public, or not? Weigh in on the cookie-off.