"For Love of Neighbor" is a new documentary film offering a hopeful vision for Christian engagement in politics. Click here to learn more.

Mayor Bloomberg as Dr. Strange-Big-Government-Love

Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Big Gulp

Alright, so the title of my post may be a bit of a stretch, but at least by now all of you have likely heard about the mayor of New York City’s recent plan to stem the hefty tide of obesity with an ordinance that would prevent places like restaurants and movie theaters from selling soda in quantities exceeding 16 ounces. The unprecedented move seems as absurd as the most ridiculous (and hilarious) moments of the 1964 Stanley Kubrick film, the name of which I took liberties with above. Dr. Strangelove In that classic piece of cinema, the great actor Peter Sellers played multiple roles that added up to one Oscar-worthy performance. Now, thanks to Bloomberg, in New York City you’ll need multiple trips to the concession counter for refills that add up to one American-sized trough of Mountain Dew. This is what democracy looks like? But, you may ask, who really cares? It’s just soda, right? And after all, to paraphrase a favorite line of non-rich Americans when speaking of wealthier Americans—how much Cherry Coke [money] does one person need? Let’s get this out of the way right now: I am against this proposal and find it entirely preposterous. Mandating that companies put caloric and nutritional information on their packages is one thing. Telling businesses and their customers how much soda they can buy at one time is—I would have to imagine—what Saint Paul was talking about in the New Testament when he strongly condemned “busybodies.” But let’s give Mayor Bloomberg a chance to explain what I presume to be his well thought out rationale behind the controversial scheme:
We’ve got to do something. Everybody is wringing their hands saying we’ve got to do something. Well, here is a concrete thing … If you want to order two cups of the same time, that’s fine. It’s your choice. We’re not taking away anybody’s right to do things. We’re simply forcing you to understand that you have to make the conscious decision to go from one cup to another cup.”
He then added:
“It might not be the best plan, or the only plan, but it’s a plan.”
Not to be upstaged in unveiling the Left’s proclivity for short-term solutions, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, when asked why the administration doesn’t seem to be taking the economy more seriously, had this to say:
The proposals the president put forward were specifically designed to have effect now. Because the American people aren’t focused on what’s going to help the economy in five years; right now they’re focused on what can we do now to help this economy grow and create jobs.”
Right there are two excellent examples of the fundamental flaws of what economist Thomas Sowell would call “the unconstrained vision” of those on the Left. They’re also great examples of Sowell’s stage-one thinking template. Either way, it is precisely this type of short-sighted, idealistic view of the world that progressive politicians from Mayor Bloomberg to President Obama bring to their policy-making decisions. This happens all the time. First, a need that warrants some level of legitimate concern is identified. In the case of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal, there is no disputing that Americans eat too much junk food and consume too many sugary drinks. We’ve all seen “Supersize Me.” We get it. Everyone—yes, even fat people—wants a healthier nation. Step two in the Bloomberg-Obama thought process is where trouble sets in. Two volatile forces converge for results that are consistently, shall we say, inadequate. First, you have the liberal belief that government is the solution to nearly any societal ill we face. Second, you have politicians who have won elections and understandably feel something of a mandate from the people to act. The third step is to take your shiny cause to the public square, flesh out an emotional appeal that causes pundits like Andrea Mitchell to nod in solemn agreement, and pray that very few thoughtful citizens examine the lemon you just sold them. The problem with obesity is one of personal responsibility. Is anyone confused on this point? The economy is in the tank in large part because private citizens, companies, and politicians only thought about things in terms of the next election or the next big score instead of exhibiting restraint and prudence in their own financial dealings and at the ballot box. Americans would be well served to have the Men in Black erase the misconception that we should only think in short-term economic benefits with a neuralyzer. Just “doing something” doesn’t work in any other area of our lives, and yet these elected officials would have us believe that it just might work for a city of 20 million people (or a nation of over 300 million). No business “just does something” when their backs are against the fiscal wall. No husband “just does something” when his wife is upset with him. The devil is always in the details. Whether we’re talking about a company or marriage or Fantasy Baseball team that is able to survive turbulent times, future success can only come from a basic belief that “just doing something” is never an option. There’s always a plan to be hatched. There’s always a discussion to be had. And there has to be a desire on the part of the people directly involved to take responsibility for themselves or their business. The truth is, we can vote ourselves an ever-expanding, busy-bodying government if we want it. We can cede our soda-drinking habits over to leaders who openly admit that their plan “might not be that great.” Unlike any other nation in the history of mankind, our fate is in our hands. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “It’s a Republic; if you can keep it.” Can we keep it? Are we up to the task? Or are we resigned to the fate that this-or-that bill handed down from on high will fix everything from the health of our 401ks to the rate of adult onset diabetes? If we can’t talk progressives like Michael Bloomberg out of the incessant worrying on our behalf, we should at least help them find new work.