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Jewish World Review May 24, 2002 / 13 Sivan, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Consumer Reports

Richard Simmons for President?

What really motivates the fat-taxers.


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Ready for a fat tax? Grab a Twinkie (while you can still afford one) and read on.

Already proposed in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada, a fat tax applies to foods with high calories, little nutritional value, or high fat content. In this country, the push for such a tax emanates from academy-ensconced nutritionists and busybody organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

We all agree on the obvious truth that obesity is a health threat. We also agree that individuals have every right to spend their resources promoting better nutrition and more exercise.

But until CSPI finances Richard Simmons for President, I'm going to doubt that nutrition and exercise are really their front-burner concerns.

Fat taxers argue their case on two points. First, they say that everyone should live healthier lives, and that they need help to do it. Second, they argue that the cost of poor health and eating habits drives up the price of insurance and medical treatment, and drives down economic productivity.

All true-but do these facts amount to a case for the abandonment of private persuasion in favor of a federal force majeure against Ho-Hos?

At its founding, the whole point of America-perhaps more so as a system than as a nation-was to be a place where people are entitled to make their own decisions, unmolested, for better or worse. It was the establishment of the ultimate human right.

But having met with little success as mere advocates, these new, private policemen such as CSPI now wish to impose their regimen on everybody else-and they substitute the gilded and wholesome promise of healthier lives and the threat of higher medical bills for the answer to this question: What gives you the right to run this part of my life?

They believe it is more important for the system-of economics, of health care, of fetishistic obsession with the aesthetics of efficiency-to work according to plan than it is for individuals to retain their G-d-given right to make their own choices, good or bad.

Or, simply put, they enjoy running other people's lives, and they are willing to pass laws to gain that influence.

For 21st century America, the stirrings of smiley-face fascism-and that is the word, yes-begin neither in the hot oratory of a dangerous man nor even in the fear for our safety from terrorists. Fascism begins further back than that, back in the corners of an individual's heart, back where pride and superiority assert themselves like an id. For some, believing they are right about this or that evolves quickly into knowing they are right-a safe enough transition for most. Some of those become quiet advocates, some proselytes.

But for a few others, the next step is to coerce others into following. Not tricking, not cajoling, not reasoning. Just coercion. Like CSPI, for an example that's close at hand.

The leaders of CSPI have decided that on this issue, citizens must be forced to do what someone else says is good for them. (CSPI is worked up on a lot of other issues, too: they are floating a proposal to tax televisions, because watching TV cuts into one's exercise time; to end the drinking of alcohol; and-but I'm only guessing on this one-to do something about those distracting little outfits Britney Spears barely wears.)

How much risk must we avoid? Wine can lead to wino-ism, pedestrians are known to trip on uneven squares of sidewalk, skateboards flip over in those crazy halfpipes, red meat can get stuck in your teeth, beets are not very pretty. When is the risk too great for the public-when CSPI declares it so?

We made a big mistake when we allowed government to begin encroaching on the choice to smoke, but as conservatives, we were more worried about looking concerned that with standing up for a principle too nuanced to explain in a soundbite.

Incrementalism is the key to imposing big and dangerous ideas. If we don't see some September 11 equivalent to the cost of our incremental selling out in something as seemingly silly as a "Twinkie Tax," we will lose our simplest and least important freedoms so slowly that no one will remember that it used to be any other way.

The left has already introduced the fat-tax idea into respectable public debate, and that's half the battle won for them.

Look hard down the track we're on. See where it leads?


JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Michael Long