Bill Steigerwald

With his book “Nanny State,” Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi has thrown a conservative-libertarian rope around a disturbing political and cultural trend -- the nannification of America by moral busybodies and nitpicking maternalists who use government power to micromanage our personal lives and protect us from ourselves. Whether it’s outlawing trans fats in New York City or tag on school playgrounds, Harsanyi says the “nannyists” among us are not only creating a new culture of dependency on government but also eroding what’s left of our individual freedoms. I talked to the author of “Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning American Into a Nation of Children” by phone from his offices in Denver.

Q: What’s “Nanny State” about?

A: It’s about the difference between coercing someone to do the right thing and convincing them to do the right thing. In the Nanny State, we coerce them -- or the government does, at least. All these intrusions -- what we eat, what we smoke, what we watch -- one by one they don’t seem like they are much. But when you bundle them together, you have a movement, and a movement that undermines our freedoms. That’s what the book’s about.

Q: Do most people know exactly what you are talking about when you mention "the Nanny State"?

A: I think people who pay attention to politics do know what we’re talking about. I’m not sure the everyday Joe does. That’s why I have a very long subtitle -- to make it clear that it’s not a book about child care.

Q: Who’s responsible for this Nanny State -- liberals, conservatives, Jane Fonda, Jerry Falwell?

A: All of the above. I would say that the left typically believes that government can make us better people and protect us from all the vagaries of life. On the right, at least rhetorically, we hear a lot about individual freedom. But in the past few years, and maybe it’s compassionate conservatism, we see the Republican Party coddling adults as well and buying into the Nanny State. It’s still not as bad as the liberals, but bad enough. But there are many different kinds of people involved in the Nanny State and it’s driven by all kinds of concerns -- hyper-risk-aversion and political correctness are also part of it. It’s not like you can pin it down to one or two types of people. It’s a bunch of people.

Q: It’s become federalized -- it’s enforced at all levels of government?

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..