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Political projects that seek the perfectibility of man by using the coercive powers of the state have a long and checkered history - perhaps the most infamous being attempts to create the New Soviet Man. As the diverse milieu of social, religious, and cultural forces that compete to influence behavior are displaced by monolithic government bans, mandates, regulations, taxes, subsidies, fines, and prison sentences, we are left lamenting the demise of the experiment in limited government that was once the signature accomplishment of the United States.
Examples of overreach abound, but few are as ludicrous as the current campaign against gluttony and its mirror image, anorexia.
Let's face it, Americans are getting fat, with fully a third categorized as obese and another third overweight. Medical explanations abound, but a sedentary lifestyle, overeating, and improper diet are choices people make despite being bombarded with information about how harmful such behaviors are to their health - not to mention their looking in the mirror or stepping onto the scale.
Now, in an act of unintended irony, our burger-chomping First Lady has made fighting the obesity "epidemic" a crusade - one that will require dictating the content of school lunch programs. Meanwhile, her husband (the closet smoker) showers stimulus money on lunch box police to see that her "recommendations" are enforced.
How did we evolve from the land of the free and the home of the brave into a bunch of cowering weenies forced to eat our vegetables? Call it the progressive two-step, a time tested technique by which we are induced to become our brothers' keepers across ever larger sectors of our lives.
The first step is to define obesity as a "disease," thereby relieving its "victims" of personal responsibility. Any number of government-financed scientists can then be called upon to produce mountains of studies proving that self-control is no match for the actions of this or that chemical receptor in our brains. Those who stress personal responsibility are denounced for "blaming the victim," whose suffering is "no fault of their own."
Thus, the stage is set for public policies guided by "experts" empowered to act on behalf of the "public good," using any means at their disposal to achieve their noble ends.
The logic behind government efforts to control Americans' mass body index is as impeccable as it is insidious. If health care is a "right" to be paid for by the taxpayer, and "access" to this right is being jeopardized by the runaway costs associated with a "disease" called obesity, then the food that you stuff in your face is no longer a personal preference but a critical matter of fiscal necessity.
Sugar is the latest demon, since it appears that years of government advice on the consumption of saturated fats has turned out to be wrong. A broad-based campaign is underway, spearheaded by zealots like Professor Robert Lustig of the University of California, to get the federal Food and Drug Administration to regulate sugar as it does other "addictive poisons."
In addition, calls to introduce punitive taxes on sugary foods and beverages follow on the heels of the campaign to reduce smoking by driving up the cost of cigarettes. The fact that this has perversely turned state governments, increasingly dependent on tobacco taxes, into the silent partners of cigarette companies seems to bother no one. Is the soft drink industry next? Only your state's attorney general and the class action tort bar know for sure.
At the other end of the scale, "scientists" are urging government action to ban skinny models to curb anorexia, a self-induced malady that affects far too many young women with self-esteem problems. Apparently, the fashion industry's penchant for thinness, which you might think would be hailed by obesity warriors, is a public menace that needs to be controlled. First Amendment be dammed, we have a crisis here and we cannot let corporate greed trump public safety!
Following in the footsteps of the so far unsuccessful campaign to ban violent video games, it's just a matter of time before an activist judge somewhere buys into the ends-justifies-the-means argument to curb speech for the public good. Punitive income taxes on skinny models and excise taxes on small dress sizes have yet to be proposed, but give it time.
All of this is part and parcel of the slippery slope we have been sliding down for years as we are slowly trained to kowtow to the self-appointed nannies who have grabbed the levers of power. Turning back the tide will not be easy, though perhaps our impending federal bankruptcy will help focus voter's minds on what is and what is not the proper scope of government.