He drew the line. Right over Ronald’s floppy red shoes.

McDonald’s Corp. CEO Jim Skinner came out swinging Thursday when asked about Ronald McDonald and whether the burger chain hooks children with junk food…

“We believe in the democratic process and our government officials believe in the democratic process,” he said to applause from the audience of McDonald’s shareholders. “This is about choice, this is about personal, individual right to choose in the society we live in. That’s where we play, that’s where you play, and we have every right to do so.”

Skinner also got applause when he called Ronald, the burger chain’s smiling spokesclown, “an ambassador for good” and noted that he is the face of Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“He does not advertise unhealthy food to children,” Skinner said. “We provide many choices that fit with the balanced, active lifestyle. It is up to them to choose and their parents to choose, and it is their responsibility to do so.”

A shareholder resolution that would have required the company to study the financial impact of defending its meals for kids got just six percent of the vote, which is almost a death blow to the “ban Ronald” movement. I say “almost” because there’s a crucial detail buried in the Journal’s report about this, a detail that makes McDonald’s and the “ban Ronald” crowd somehow look equally dopey.

Turns out America hates Ronald McDonald:

“Ronald is recognized by more than 99% of U.S. consumers. Clearly, that’s his strength,” says Chris Anderson, communications director for The Marketing Arm. “Of course, just because consumers know someone doesn’t mean they like them or trust them.”

When it comes to likeability, Ronald McDonald ranks No. 2,109 out of more than 2,800 celebrities in the agency’s index, scoring in the same neighborhood as actor David Spade and NFL quarterback Vince Young, and behind Mickey Mouse, Shrek and Cap ‘n Crunch.

Mollie Kerr, an 11-year-old sixth grader from a suburb of New York City, has strong opinions on Ronald McDonald. For starters, she says, he lacks authenticity.

“It’s very fake, the whole, like, all his commercials, where he’s jumping up and down, where he’s always happy. You know that no one’s always happy. It’s silly,” she says. “We have, like problems, we have earthquakes and tornadoes, we have money problems and financial problems. But in Ronald McDonald World, we have no problems, it’s just happy all the time.”

If you’re wondering why you tend not to see him in ads anymore, there you go. If you’re also wondering why the “ban Ronald” crowd would be obsessed with him then, I have no answers for you. Two points, though. One: If America’s 11-year-olds have reached the point where they can’t enjoy a clown because he’s not socially conscious enough, then I’m actually okay with this Rapture thing tonight. Two: What could have happened to Ronald’s brand to put him in the same tier of likeability as an SNL alum whose comic niche is fast-talking snottiness? Is Ronald at least more highly rated than, say, Rob Schneider? Note to Jim Skinner: If your corporate mascot has a favorable rating roughly on par with Joe Dirt’s, you’ve gone very, very wrong.

Here’s Neil Cavuto and some food-cop nanny yelling at each other about Ronald on yesterday’s show. Exit question: Time for McD’s to replace Ronald with the Hamburglar, maybe? Or is his criminality too much for the sensitive, civically-minded modern 11-year-old to handle?