Ban on the run

New York mayor's war on big sodas rightly fizzes out in court

A benevolent dictator is more dictator than benevolent.

 

A judge is now the only thing standing between the people of New York City and benevolent dictator Michael Bloomberg – whose ban on large sugary drinks in restaurants and such was blocked by a court ruling Monday.

The mayor surely has the best of intentions, in trying to follow up his smoking and trans-fat bans with one on the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces at food-service establishments.

Still, there is a huge difference between banning smoking and trans-fats – and requiring restaurants to post calorie counts for their food, as Bloomberg also has done – and banning big drinks. Smoking is inherently dangerous, even to nonsmokers in enclosed areas, and trans-fats apparently aren’t healthy in any dosage. And posting calorie counts is merely providing consumers information.

But banning the sale of legal soft drinks – which can be safely and responsibly ingested – is an affront to individual liberty. Good grief, when did we give government this much power over our lives?

The answer, of course, is gradually. Today it is soft drinks. Tomorrow it’s another foodstuff or something else our benevolent rulers feel is bad for us. Who needs a parent when you’ve got overlords like Michael Bloomberg?

The frog is boiled alive when the heat is turned up slowly.

Moreover, Bloomberg’s ban is arbitrary and capricious, as the judge noted, “because it applies to some but not all food establishments in the city, it excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories on suspect grounds, and the loopholes inherent in the rule ... serve to gut the purpose of the rule.”

Indeed, because Bloomberg’s handpicked health board doesn’t hold sway over them – yet – convenience stores and grocery stores are exempt from the soda ban. Nor does it include such things as milkshakes, which one would think are pretty darn sugary too.

This is the unavoidable hypocrisy of dictates. They’re uneven, unfair, erratic and injudicious.

Many Americans are still quite indisposed to being told how to live their lives. Those of us who remember Orwell are horrified that any American would silently accept it.

Even if it were within Mayor Bloomberg’s authority to regulate what we eat and drink, it’s not within his power. Has he never had a teenager? As a movie character once said, “the American people have a funny way of deciding on their own what is and what is not their business.”

The government can, and should, regulate the safety of our food, water and air. It can and should protect us, as much as can be expected in a free country, from contagions. What it cannot and should not do is dictate what we eat or drink, or in what portions. The mayor cannot be a nanny. He cannot criminalize unhealthy choices.

Responsibility cannot be forced on people. It can, however, be spread, in big gulps, by the right example.

The soda ban is not one of them.

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