The Nanny State

Copyright © by Len Holman, 10/28/11


  The harping continues.  Mrs. Obama is jamming veggies down kids’ throats.  Mr. Obama is jamming solar energy through our electric grid.  The government has the audacity to want American kids to learn something in school, and be tested to see if they actually have.  He wants to spend money—spend money!—to keep our roads and rails and bridges from falling apart.  The Conservative candidates complain that the government has become worse than Big Brother—it has become The Nanny. To hear them tell it, the government just won’t leave us alone, and we are all the worse for it.  There is one country—France—whose government’s dietary guidelines mandate that schoolchildren will only have access to ketchup once a week, on the day French fries are served.  Mayo, higher in calories, will be rationed.  THAT’S a Nanny State. 

  Not exactly our government’s response to the Whiskey Rebellion, where an incipient tax revolt was suppressed by President Washington, showing that the feds were willing to use force to keep the integrity of its laws.  What we’re talking about here is the provision of information which has been translated by the Right into the language of intimidation and force.  Maybe this is what the Tea Party really means when they all signed the “no taxes” pledge:  taxes mean force.  Well, no kidding.  Any tax is, at the very least, a two-fold strategy. It is both a revenue-raising measure, and a stick to push consumers to do what the government needs—or wants—them to do.  To single out taxes is insulting to any thinking prospective voter, but so far, we’ve seen few of these. If Mrs. Obama thinks veggies are better for American kids than deep-fried potatoes, she’s not alone.  Fruits instead of fruit soda.  But Mrs. Obama isn’t going to go door-to-door in American and hand-walk every kid to school, wait until lunch, then make sure every one of them drinks milk and eats an apple.  She’s giving information—information that has long been known by nutritionists, Greeks, and yoga practitioners at nudist camps in California.  It’s information, and not force. 

  The government can put pictures of diseased lungs on packs of Pall Malls, but it can’t send an agent to every liquor store in the country to slap those ciggies out of virgin hands. The choice to smoke, eat deep-fried butter sticks, and use carrots only for target practice is still a consumer choice.  The conservative desperation to unseat a shaky president has reached a height of language which would be laughable if it were not so pernicious.  One hopes that this campaign is not the harbinger of things to come, where even the smallest of things becomes a large issue, though as any seasoned voter knows, every little thing becomes something HUGE.  Remember the uproar over Obama’s middle name?  The wearing of the American flag in his lapel?  Was it a nanny-state act for President Reagan to have a tariff imposed on Japanese motorcycles for the benefit of a fading, near-defunct Harley Davidson?  And what about those light bulbs?  Did the last American-made incandescent bulb factory close because troops moved in and forcibly shut the plant down?  Wasn’t it basically a consumer choice?  Pay five bucks for a bulb that lasts years longer and gives about the same light?  Let’s not forget Denmark, where the government has started to imposes a levy on saturated fat content—at $1.29 a pound.  The Danish government has a formula for figuring all this out, but the final result is not that the Danes voted to cut saturated fat.  Their government decided it was bad for the Danish people to eat so much junk and nutrition facts seem to support this and so…well, a no fat fiat.  But Americans are cut from a different cloth.  Well, a cloth which is taken out of the attic and waved furiously during elections:  we are special, chosen by God to BE special and DO special things, none of which need be within the natural run of things, or be reasonable or contribute to a better, saner, healthier society.  If one listens to candidates, Americans are not part of the human race and America is not part of the natural order, so we can do and say what we like and not worry about collateral damage to ourselves as a nation, our society, our planet—just get elected.

  It logically follows that, if conservatives want to cut spending, they would support every conceivable method that science could validate and government could promulgate to make—and keep—citizens healthy, informed, and aware—for such a citizenry costs less to maintain.  Less maintenance, fewer expenses.  The constant prattling about government’s job being to protect the homeland from terrorists is trite.  The government’s main domestic job is to protect us from us.  And it does that mostly with information.  It gives out information and reporters and bloggers and everyone in the chattering classes takes that info and runs with it.  Of course, the very phrase “nanny state” (in its benign form) evokes a Big Brother government, but a dictatorship in its extreme form.  Words have power, even when the listener hasn’t read Orwell or can accurately define what Fascism is.  When a so-called “debate” appears on TV or the web, where are the tough questions?  Where are the demands for real definitions?  I’ve watched Candy Crowley on CNN try to pin down politicians and get the old oozing answer trick, and I know she—and all the other interlocutors—have a certain amount of time for a particular guest and can’t spend an hour trying to get politician A to clearly state where he or she stands on some particular issue.  One of my favorite phrases, currently in vogue, is “flat tax.”  Herman Cain is using it in his “9-9-9” plan, and Gov. Perry (not coincidentally behind Cain in polls) has trotted out his own  version, and try as they might—and it doesn’t appear they’re trying all that hard—they can’t seem to get past even the few softball questions they get. Calling the government under the current administration Government a Nanny State and then walking away from it, with not a glance back and little or no challenge is like letting your Collie do his business in a public park and then walking away.  Labels in an election cycle DEMAND explanation.   I label with no real explanation is a pile of excrement in a park.  It is vile, smelly, and the voter should shun it and go on his or her way.


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