Eric, in his first article on THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL, raised a bit of a firestorm by asking, “Is the Left Evil?” He certainly thought so, much to the chagrin of our leftist from Lewes, but I’d like to address the question from the other perspective: Are the Left Good?
I start with the assumption that they certainly believe that they are good, defining good as doing good things, being charitably disposed, and wishing only the best for other people. Which brings me to this article from The New York Times:
By WINNIE HU
Published: June 11, 2012
A hospital offers Zumba and cooking classes. Farmers markets dole out $2 coupons for cantaloupe and broccoli. An adopt-a-bodega program nudges store owners to stock low-fat milk. And one apartment building even slowed down its elevator, and lined its stairwells with artwork, to entice occupants into some daily exercise.
In the Bronx, where more than two-thirds of adults are overweight, the message has been unmistakably clear for a long time: Slim down now.
But, if anything, this battery of efforts points to how intractable the obesity problem has become in New York’s poorest borough. The number of the overweight and obese continue to grow faster in the Bronx than anywhere else in the city — nearly one in three Bronx adults is obese — leading the city’s health commissioner to call it “ground zero for the obesity epidemic problem.”
So it was to the weight-burdened Bronx that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg went last week to make the case for his controversial proposal to ban supersized sodas and sugary drinks. Standing in the lobby of Montefiore Medical Center, the borough’s largest hospital, he was flanked by doctors who spoke of treating more patients than ever with diabetes, hypertension and other obesity-related diseases.
Critics have described the proposed soda rule as interfering with a matter of personal choice, calling instead for less intrusive means to address the obesity problem, through education and access to healthy foods. But the Bronx experience helps explain why Mr. Bloomberg and city health officials embraced the aggressive new regulatory tact after years of trying, and failing, to curb obesity through those types of measures.
Much more at the link.
Now, many of our friends on the left would say that Mayor Bloomberg’s action was a good thing, government intervening to help people. And the people who only want to do good are redefining obesity as a public health issue. Mayor Bloomberg said:
We are absolutely committed to doing everything in our power to help you get on track and stay on track to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Because this isn’t your crisis alone — it is a crisis for our city and our entire country.
In other words, if you are fat, it is our business. From The New England Journal of Medicine:
Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., David M. Studdert, LL.B., Sc.D., M.P.H., and Troyen A. Brennan, M.D., J.D., M.P.H.
N Engl J Med 2006; 354:2601-2610 June 15, 2006
The law is now firmly established as a powerful instrument of public health. Some of the most important public health victories in the United States in the past century — declining lead exposure, reduced rates of smoking, improvements in workplace and motor vehicle safety, and increased vaccination rates — are the result of new legislation, heightened regulatory enforcement, litigation, or a combination of the three. With each victory, confidence mounts in the capacity of legal tools to be used in combating serious health threats.
One of the newest targets of public health law is obesity. The past few years have brought a flurry of legislative initiatives aimed at improving nutrition and physical activity among children and adults, highly publicized personal-injury lawsuits against food and beverage companies, and new activities on the part of federal regulators. Related initiatives in other countries and at the World Health Organization signal growing international interest.
This new frontier of public health law is welcomed by many health activists, but it has also provoked criticism. A backlash from the food industry is already evident, and rights-oriented consumer groups have decried some measures because they impinge on civil liberties. Tensions exist between these interventions and the freedoms of choice, speech, and contract. In this article, we review the rationale for regulatory action to combat obesity, examine legal issues raised by initiatives to date, and comment on the prospects for public health law in this area.
Time for Legal Action?
The public health law approach posits that the law can be used to create conditions that allow people to lead healthier lives and that the government has both the power and the duty to regulate private behavior in order to promote public health. The constitutional source of this authority is the police power, which encompasses both directly coercive interventions and policies such as taxes and subsidies that shape behavior by altering the costs of certain choices. States also enjoy broad powers with respect to taxation of goods and services.
Several factors have led to a reexamination of the historical view that food consumption and physical activity are inappropriate subjects for government regulation. Among the “triggers to action” that have catalyzed government intervention in other areas of private behavior, such as alcohol and tobacco use, are the development of a scientific base and social disapproval. Both these triggers are now in play with regard to obesity.
Emphasis mine; internal links deleted. Much more at the link.
Public health concerns used to exist to protect the public from outside harm: from communicable diseases, and from toxins in the environment. But if a fat person walks by, you cannot catch fat from that person, and if an obese person lives in your neighborhood, he is not some sort of environmental toxin from which you must be protected. Even the restrictions on smoking in public are justified on the basis that the smoker puts toxins into the atmosphere that other people breathe.
But obesity? In this, our good-hearted friends on the left are not trying to protect you from the harmful actions of others, but are deciding that they need to protect you from yourself.
When Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto,1 one of their operating assumptions was that the proletariat would all be of the same mind; the state would supposedly wither away, because there would be no need for government authority to control people. Prior to that, the revolutionary state would be using its power only to rein in the recalcitrant bourgeois, who would, themselves, be eliminated through the elimination of capitalism. By this logic, if logic it can be called, Messrs Marx and Engels managed to avoid the uncomfortable question of the rights of people who disagree; all would comply, for the good of socialist society, because all would want to comply.
Unfortunately for Messrs Marx and Engels’ “logic,” not everybody did comply, because not everybody believed the same thing, because, human nature being what it is, people had their own better interests, which they held to be more important than the interests of others, or of the state. And thus, where Communism did triumph, we saw wonderful institutions like the ГУЛаг,2 to insure that the public did comply, whether they wished to or otherwise, because the interests of the state outweighed the rights of the individual.
Mayor Bloomberg is not a Communist dictator,3 and he can’t just establish concentration camps in Central Park. First Lady Michelle Obama, who has her own anti-obesity efforts going on, is not a Communist dictator,4 and can’t get you arrested for stuffing three Big Macs in your mouth. What they are, are busybodies, people who think that your life is somehow their business, and that they know better than you and can tell you how you should behave.
And it’s all so ridiculous. Let’s be real: there is no one of normal intelligence in the United States who is fat who does not know he is fat. If there is one thing our culture is great at doing, it’s sending out all sorts of cultural images which tell you, in no uncertain terms, if you are fat, you just aren’t quite as good as other people, aren’t as attractive as other people, and that you need to shape up. The weight-loss industry in the United States was estimated to be worth $60.9 billion in 2011, plenty of evidence that the cultural messages have taken hold. Your Editor supposes that, for Mayor Bloomberg, the efforts of people to try to lose weight voluntarily just aren’t good enough, and that he has the right to try to step in to help you.
Your Editor firmly believes that, as he began this article, our friends on the left believe that they are good people, defining good as doing good things, being charitably disposed, and wishing only the best for other people. But, as our friends on the left try to do what they think is good, try to help you help yourself, try to do what is for your own good, they become evil. It’s certainly nothing that they see themselves as being, but when our friends on the left try to use the police power of the state to impose their beliefs on what is best for you, on you, because you were too stupid or weak-willed or whatever to comply with their obviously-superior judgement, they have become evil, they have tried to trample on your individual rights, they have tried to act in loco parentis.
In that, the final two paragraphs from the Times original show the fallacy of that:
Arla Lucien, 27, a post office clerk trying to lose 40 pounds, said a ban would no more help her stick to her diet than the calorie counts posted on menus, another anti-obesity measure that city leaders hoped would lead consumers to make healthier decisions. She still orders her Big Macs.
“Really, you’re going to tell me how to eat and drink?” she said. “That’s not going to work. It’s hard to do with kids; you think it’s going to work with adults?”
- The Communist Manifesto, at the link given, is free in the Kindle edition. ↩
- Гла́вное управле́ние исправи́тельно-трудовы́х лагере́й и коло́ний, the Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies. ↩
- Though your Editor suspects that he would like to have that kind of authority. ↩
- Though your Editor suspects that she would really like to have that kind of authority. ↩