Will The Nanny State Trump Free Will Individualism


THE issue of personal responsibility made news in New York and Arizona. No, it did not involve gun control or illegal immigration. Critics wondered how far government should go in preventing people from making unhealthy choices.

At one time, the legal concept caveat emptor was once taught in civics class as a lesson in becoming a wary consumer. Generations of schoolchildren interpreted in loco parentis as giving teachers parental-like authority over them. These legal concepts have been turned inside-out by overreaching lawmakers in our modern Nanny state.

Recently, City Councilman Leroy Comrie, a liberal Democrat from Queens, announced legislation modeled on a San Francisco law that restricts toys to meals of 500 or fewer calories and 600 mg of sodium. Violators would be subject to $2500 fines.

Council Member Comrie wants major fast food restaurants to do what parents are either too lazy or uninterested to do. That is, act as the adults in control of their children’s diets. Comrie admitted he often gave in to his children’s hankering for Happy Meals. He also said that it was often easier to grab Kids Meals than give his progeny well-balanced nutritious, home-cooked meals.

Comrie argues that the toys encourage children to make unhealthy food choices and undermine parental efforts to get their children to eat healthier foods. Apparently, toys lead to childhood obesity and diabetes.

Contrary to CM Comrie’s legislation absolving parents of responsibility for their own and their children’s unhealthy eating habits and resulting obesity, diabetes and premature death, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has proposed charging irresponsible overweight, unhealthy Arizonans a measly annual $50 Medicaid copayment. Medicaid-eligible smokers, obese people and diabetics would be assessed the levy.

Wisely, Governor Brewer seeks to tame the spiraling costs of Medicaid. Forty-six percent of Arizona Medicaid recipients smoke, 27% of Arizona residents are obese, and about 300,000 suffer from diabetes. These lifestyle illnesses cost taxpayers.

Naturally, Arizona Democrats, say such a fee would unfairly penalize those who can’t control their weight. State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema told the Wall Street Journal that “it’s not their fault.”

Queens Democrat Comrie seemingly agrees and would rather penalize the local taxpaying, jobs-providing McDonald’s, Burger King or Jack’s restaurant owner. Strangely, he calls those who would employ his constituents “predatory marketers.”

Cheerleaders of the Comrie bill say that any measure that incentivizes food makers to offer healthier options for consumers can only help. While the naysayers opposing Governor Brewer’s sensible co pay disagree that her fee will encourage Arizona’s Medicaid enrollees to exercise healthier lifestyle choices.

Rugged individualism once typified that which was great about the American character. Today, Americans have ceded their individual responsibility to government, politicians and trial lawyers.

Personal responsibility for behavioral choices has given way to blaming a third party, usually a big business with deep pockets. But rarely is the individual held accountable for the consequences of his/her choices, unless they belong to an out-group, e.g., IV drug users.

Politicians tell us that it takes a village to raise a child (or a man-child) because big business and big media would lead them astray. Fortunately, we have Jan Brewer who, although taking another politically incorrect position, is calling for personal responsibility. I urge City officials to make ex abusu non arguitur in usum their guiding maxim before proposing “nanny state” legislation.

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About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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