Paul Jacob

First, do no harm.

It may not be part of the Hippocratic oath, as is often said, but it’s a good maxim anyways. Besides, Hippocrates did write something similar: “make a habit of two things — to help, or at least to do no harm.”

It’s a good bit of advice for people whose very job is prying into others’ lives. In medicine, one reason the profession isn’t overrun by busybodies and nuisances has been this injunction — and the fact that doctors are usually called in only at the patient’s request, and by contract.

Politicians don’t have any such built-in safeguards. I mean, the Constitution is supposed to take the place of a real contract, but for most politicians the document is, today, a dead letter.

So we could sure use a few wise words, an apophthegm, a gnome . . . for politicians to live by.

I’ve got one. It’s not in any way outré or unheard of. It’s already popular enough that we even have an acronym for it: MYOB.

Mind your own business.

If politicians — or even citizens, when in “political mode” as voters — realized that not all business is their business, maybe they wouldn’t wind up so often playing tyrant.

Or come out looking like fools.

Sometimes it’s hard to know which is worse: the tyranny or the stupendous folly.

For instance, a while back we raised eyebrows over the Big Brother-ish New York City policy of banning restaurants from using trans fat in their food. Now, I avoid trans fat; so do growing numbers of Americans — voluntarily.

But what business is it of the government?

Tell that to Mississippi Representatives W.T. Mayhall and John Read, Republicans, and Bobby Shows, Democrat. These solons tried hard to venture up from small-scale nannying. They introduced legislation to force restaurants to segregate potential customers. Had their House Bill 282 passed — instead of being crushed by the forces of common sense — the state of Mississippi would have forced restaurants to refuse to serve customers deemed by the health department to be obese.

Discrimination on the basis of race or gender or creed or even percentage of body fat is just wrong. Everybody already knows this.

Everybody, that is, but too many politicians. They somehow forgot that the freedom they are supposed to defend tells them that your obesity, or mine, is none of their business.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.