Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- 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."'

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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.

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?

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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