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Jewish World Review May 19, 2003 / 17 Iyar, 5763

David Limbaugh

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Consumer Reports

Scapegoating to paradise

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The liability lawsuit against the McDonald's hamburger chain strikes me as frivolous, even laughable on its face. But I'm not laughing because it is not just some isolated, renegade, over-the-top lawsuit. It's representative of a society-deadening illness in America.

Last year, lawyers filed a number of lawsuits against fast food distributors for making their consuming clients obese and unhealthy. While none of the lawsuits has yet been successful, a few are still looming, and people are beginning to take them seriously.

The theory behind the suits is that the defendants failed to disclose clearly and conspicuously the nutritional content and harmful effects of their food, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

Just how far are we going to take this developing principle that a person is not responsible for his own actions if there is a deep pocket to which we can shift the blame? The tobacco suits were bad enough. After all, if as a pre-teen some 40 years ago I was aware enough of the risks in smoking to try to convince both my parents to quit the habit - which I was and did - how could any sentient human being have been ignorant of the risks?

It didn't matter that everyone knew the risks, said the tobacco plaintiffs, because the evil, conspiratorial tobacco companies tried to conceal the risks and also laced their product with addictive ingredients. They needed to be punished - not just for their tortious behavior, but also just for being big corporations - no matter how irresponsible the plaintiffs may have been.

But what about McDonald's? What misdeeds has it perpetrated that should trump the flagrant irresponsibility and humiliating shamelessness of the plaintiffs in these cases? Well, the father of one of the burgerholics said he never saw anything in the Bronx restaurants informing him of the food's ingredients. He also submitted an affidavit saying he always believed McDonald's was healthy for his children.

This guy may have driven in on a pumpkin truck, but he has no right to expect the rest of us did, too. If he was so unworldly he wasn't aware burgers and fries are high in fat, are we supposed to believe he would have been able to comprehend a nutritional chart and then exercise sound judgment (on behalf of his daughter)?

You better believe this insanity will not stop with McDonald's - and it won't stop with fast foods - because this really isn't about nutrition. It's about changing our societal relationships, restructuring our economic system and undermining the nuclear family. It's about destroying our liberties by divorcing them from personal responsibility and accountability - freedom can't long survive without them.

Why do I say that? Well, under cockeyed theories like this, all manufacturers and vendors are at risk. It's hard enough for businesses today with onerous taxes and stifling regulations, but what about their constant exposure to liability because a certain percentage of the population simply will not consume in moderation (fast foods) or because certain criminals will misuse lawful products (guns)?

Plus, the instigators and supporters of these suits aren't just after the restaurants. They are targeting our capitalistic system itself, which depends on people assuming responsibility for their own actions. In this case, the restaurants allegedly didn't give people sufficient scientific data to support the conclusion written on the psyche of anyone with common sense: that too much high-fat food is unhealthy.

But guess who else is at fault? The government! That's right, some are now suggesting that the government should assume the responsibility of protecting people from themselves. Meet your new mommy and daddy. Move over, Hillary. It doesn't just take a village - it takes an entire bureaucracy.

Recently, in a debate over these obesity suits, one "scholar" suggested we should not be looking to pin the blame on restaurants but the government, because it is "subsidizing obesity." The federal, state and local governments, said Shannon Brownlee of the New America Foundation, are not doing anything "credible" about this "disease," but are actually promoting it through taxes and other policies.

Folks, this country will eventually collapse if we don't exercise a little self-help and use some of that common sense that doesn't seem to be quite as common anymore. Not every societal problem is an injustice that must be remedied. Utopias don't exist, the Cuban Paradise notwithstanding.

What we really need is not more policy-making lawsuits or mandatory nutrition guides accompanying each meal, but a nationwide crash course on the "nutritional" ingredients essential for a vibrant, prosperous and free society.

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David Limbaugh, a columnist and attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the just-released exposť about corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, "Absolute Power." Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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