I offer here a few selected snippets from an interview with David Harsanyi, author of Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America Into a Nation of Children.
I like the title, because if you're the type of liberal that isn't capable of reading books other than the latest Dr. Phil self-help breakthrough tome, you can still learn something by absorbing the truth of the title.
I had the opportunity within the past week to see a TV interview with an earnest, deadly-serious activist whose tobacco-executive father had died of smoking-related lung cancer. This humorless dud was explaining why he is devoting all of his time to helping enact laws where local governments ban smoking in citizens' own residences.
Zany zealots like this guy get confused when they think of broad generalities of things that are "good" and things that are "bad." Smoking, not wearing your seatbelt, drinking a handle of vodka a day, eating nothing but Big Macs (note: The Blue Grotto nominates that loser who did the documentary Super-Size Me to be launched into space), or never exercising are all things that are "bad." Agreed.
However, we live in the United States, the country to which millions upon millions of people worldwide choose to come to try to better their lives. They don't sacrifice everything to come here because they know that the government will make sure their children eat well, wear their seatbelts, or don't smoke in their homes. They come here because they know that the combination of freedom and the rule of law will give them a better shot at pursuing their dreams here than in any other country on earth. And, they are also free to make poor choices, like sitting on the couch all day, drinking a handle of vodka, and chain-smoking.
My favorite part of the following interview is the analogy to religion. Even God gives humans free will to make right choices or wrong ones! Enjoy!
Welcome to the Nanny State-- An Interview
By Bill Steigerwald
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
With his book “Nanny State,” Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi has thrown a conservative-libertarian rope around a disturbing political and cultural trend -- the nannification of America by moral busybodies and nitpicking maternalists who use government power to micromanage our personal lives and protect us from ourselves. Whether it’s outlawing trans fats in New York City or tag on school playgrounds, Harsanyi says the “nannyists” among us are not only creating a new culture of dependency on government but also eroding what’s left of our individual freedoms. I talked to the author of “Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning American Into a Nation of Children” by phone from his offices in Denver.
Q: What’s “Nanny State” about?
A: It’s about the difference between coercing someone to do the right thing and convincing them to do the right thing. In the Nanny State, we coerce them -- or the government does, at least. All these intrusions -- what we eat, what we smoke, what we watch -- one by one they don’t seem like they are much. But when you bundle them together, you have a movement, and a movement that undermines our freedoms. That’s what the book’s about. . . .
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Q: What are some of your favorite examples of "Nanny State"-ism?
A: These are fun, not serious, for the most part: In New York there was a councilwoman who wanted to ban dangerously sized candy. In Chicago -- and I believe in all of Illinois -- they banned a certain kind of yo-yo because one child almost choked or hung himself, which doesn’t sound too funny; it was funnier when I wrote it, I guess. In Florida there are actually playgrounds that have “No Running” signs. These are things that just make you shake your head. In other places we have people who are advocating for regulations on food portions. So they count out the calories in a restaurant and tell you how much you could eat. And zero-tolerance laws where you can’t have a glass of wine and drive. . . .
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Q: Do you take issue with things like motorcycle helmet laws and seatbelt laws, which are sort of the beginnings of the Nanny State?
A: Yes, I do. I realize the motivation behind seatbelt and helmet laws. It was the first major initiative that told people you are too stupid to take care of yourself and even if you are hurting no one else, we’ve decided you must wear seatbelts and must wear helmets. . . .
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Q: Is this whole petty Nanny State thing a European thing, a socialist thing?
A: It’s a sort of socialism, a sort of collective looking out for each other. It sounds nice, like socialism does on occasion. But I think what we forget sometimes is that a little thing can lead to a big thing. Here in Colorado and elsewhere they wanted to pass “driving while distracted” laws – if you are playing with your radio, they can pull you over. Doesn’t that mean that a cop can pull you over for basically anything whenever they felt like it? They could racially profile if they felt like it. They could do anything they want. That’s what people forget: they are petty laws but in the long run they could become a very big deal.
Let me go back to the socialism thing. I tried to stay away from that, only in the sense that I didn’t want the book to become something partisan. But clearly, clearly, this is a European model we’re headed for -- and that’s a socialist model. . . .
. . . People keep giving me the example about the frog in a pot and you just keep incrementally putting up the heat and then it’s boiling and frog doesn’t even know it. I think we’re almost there. But I don’t see any stop to it, because it’s hard for a politician to get up and defend tobacco, or strippers, or drinking and all those things, even though the underlying argument obviously is freedom of choice and individual choice. But what we’re doing is creating a nation of dependents. Not just as far as welfare programs go, but as far as people believing that government should always protect them, from Katrina all the way down to a kid playing tag. And it’s dangerous. . . .
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Q: Albert J. Nock once wrote that individuals lose the ability to “do the right thing” and develop good moral character if the government outlaws everything.
A: Even in religion, as far as I know, and I’m a lapsed Jew, God gives you the choice. He gives you free will to make the right choice. Without that choice, making the right choice means nothing. I’d always think back when I was writing this book, “What would Thomas Jefferson think about this? What would he think about banning happy hours at pubs? Or telling an Irish immigrant who owns a little pub somewhere that he can’t smoke a cigarette in there -- on his own property?” I think it’s an assault on the American idea. I know that sounds dramatic, because it’s such small inconveniences, but that’s what they are. And then you have to deal with the argument about externalities – “Well, if you smoke, I have to pay for your health care in the end.” Clearly, that’s a slippery slope, because then you can tell me to exercise every day. That never ends. But the more we socialize on a federal level, and clearly that’s coming with health care, then we’re all going to be collectively looking out for each other. That never ends. It’s never-ending right now, and it’s accelerating. Soon we’ll be at the Nanny State. It’s Orwellian. I know people throw around Orwell’s name a lot, but if you read “1984” the protagonist is trying to sneak a cigarette – because small things lead to big things. I think that’s the lesson there, and that’s the lesson I hope this book will convey to people. . . .