John Leo

Nannyism is a progressive affliction. When the nannies get something from the public, they always want more helmets for tots riding tricycles, for example. Now that the sensible rules against drivers’ use of hand-held phones have caught on, the campaign against hands-free phones has begun. “Inattention blindness,” we are told, is the real villain, and a recent study says that all drivers who use phones-hand-held or not-are four times as likely as other drivers to have serious crash injuries. The logic of this is to ban radios and smoking in cars, and perhaps babies, dogs, and talking passengers, all of which can be distracting. Drive-through fast-food windows would have to close, too.

Candy and cake. The obesity police also want more. Advising people to watch calories and fat is praiseworthy. Taxing “bad” foods out of reach is not. And now we hear calls to force restaurants to serve smaller portions and candy makers to halt “supersize” packaging. (If chocolate bars were smaller, apparently snackers would never think of buying two.) California’s textbook review process routinely eliminates references to food considered bad for your health, including ketchup and butter. A photo of a birthday party was dropped because the cake seemed unhealthful. A bill in the Texas Legislature would have required a printed obesity warning under each menu item. Some people, as Michael Kinsley pointed out years ago, won’t be content until every french fry carries a warning label. Some schools prohibit children from selling candy in school, because sweets are regarded as just as toxic on school property as moments of silence, which, as we all know, are church-state violations.

Hidden nannyism would include all sorts of political uplift, including term limits and congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, which is the Major Leagues’ problem, not Washington’s. Last week in a New York Times op-ed article, two men from something called the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning called for behavioral standards in schools (good) and a federal law mandating “systematic classroom assessments of children’s social and emotional growth” (not good-parents do that, not your friendly local school). Let’s hope nannies can learn to control themselves.

Otherwise, we may need some coercive but kindhearted anti-nannyist legislation.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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