The "you're not the boss of me" objection goes like this: pick some not unreasonable but not universally liked behavioral prescription, object to it by saying, "you're not the boss of me." Trust me, it's how you have a mature, well-informed, and honest debate about, say, public health.
Some so-called Medical Doctors have suggested that eating certain kinds of foods (Super-sized Salted Salty-O's, for example) will turn you into a health care nightmare. But this is America. To ruin your own health, out of ignorance, seems to be some kind right. You have a right not to have someone inform you about the relevant facts of your life choices. Or so argues Michael Gerson:
Following the passage of Democratic health-care reform legislation, President Obama assured the country that it was a "middle-of-the-road, centrist approach" instead of an intrusive, government power grab. But the government seems incapable of resisting the nannying impulse that undermines this claim.
So health reform includes a 10 percent tax on the use of indoor tanning beds. (Someone needs to stop this slow-motion Chernobyl.) The law also requires fast-food restaurants to post their calorie counts at the drive-through window, lest anyone be under the impression that a Big Mac is health food.
Recently, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called for a ban on chewing tobacco in major league baseball. A lawyer for the players' association said, "We can go back to the players and say, 'Congress feels strongly about this. You ought to think about it. Look what's happened on other issues Congress felt strongly about.' " And concerned scientists raised the prospect of legal limits on the salt content of processed foods. There is safety in blandness.
Most symbolically, this year's White House Easter Egg Roll pointedly did not include the distribution of teeth-rotting, obesity-inducing candy. "Every goodie bag," according to one account, "was stuffed with pre-screened fruit, and the grounds were filled with exercise stations." One can only imagine the joy on young faces when they got their apple and their workout.
I can hardly be called a libertarian. Legalizing drugs is a foolish idea because addiction robs people of liberty. Restaurant smoking bans have improved my life and my appetite. But freedom implies some leeway for personal risk and minor, pleasurable foolishness. Democrats in particular seem to be afflicted with Mary Poppins Syndrome: They will not rest until Americans are practically perfect in every way.
I think informing people about the undeniable realities of their food choices–a Big Mac contains 576 calories–could hardly be called an attempt to make Americans perfect in every way. Rather, some might argue (me for instance), that industries such as BIG COLA and BIG BURGER want to make people ignorant of the consequences of their choices. Even a libertarian–a consistent one-would have to admit that it's a good thing to know what your food contains.
But no–such efforts amount to nagging:
This tendency has added relevance because of the passage of health-care reform. When the provision of health insurance to every American becomes a direct responsibility of government, nearly every health matter becomes a public matter. Why not regulate tanning at beaches? Wouldn't mandatory, subsidized sunscreen save billions in health costs? Why not a jelly doughnuts tax? Why not make saturated fat a controlled substance? Shouldn't children on tricycles be required to wear safety helmets?
For some of us, the problem is not the tyranny but the nagging. As the public role in health care expands dramatically, health-care controversies become politicized. The health enthusiasms of a president, an influential congressman or an interest group can become public policy or public pressure. After all: "Look what's happened on other issues Congress felt strongly about."
Such things always have politicized. And when people advocate consumers be provided with more information, we get the same, childish argument. No, no one is the boss of Michael Gerson–he can have a Big Mac whenever he wants.