Prohibition is back?

Posted: Aug 08, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. --How did the Prohibitionists take the news? I am thinking of the Prohibitionists, who are patrolling our diets and lifestyles always with their loyal servitors, the trial lawyers, at their side. The news I have in mind is that George W. Bush, archetypical middle-aged Americano, has just passed his physical with glowing marks. His heart rate is that of a varsity athlete, 44 beats a minute. He runs seven-minute miles. His total cholesterol level is 177, considered in the "desirable" range. His body fat is 14.5 percent. He achieved all this without benefit of the Prohibitionists, and despite an occasional cigar. The vigorous president has taken personal responsibility for his diet and his lifestyle. He did not need the Prohibitionists' remonstrances. He once drank too much. Without benefit of the Prohibitionists, he cut out the booze and picked up the personal training regimen. The consequence is that he is fit, beyond the dreams of any Prohibitionist or trial lawyer. Yet these congenital snoops tell us that there is the Other America. It is a land where "obesity in children has tripled in the past 20 years. A staggering 50 percent of adolescents in some minority populations are overweight. ... Heart attacks may become a disease of young adults." That is how two health busybodies from Yale University and Harvard Medical School put it in The Washington Post last June. Their solution is to hound the food industry. They want it to cut back its government lobbying, its advertisements to children and its distribution of foods they deem unwholesome. The "food industry," they warn, "spends an estimated $10 billion to influence the eating behavior of children." So now here come the Prohibitionists after fast food or "junk food," and this is but the latest assault on American industry and private citizens. The campaign will get worse. In New York City last month, lawyer Samuel Hirsch filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC Corp., claiming his client became obese and ill because of the delicious products of these profitable corporations. The scenario is precisely the same that was followed in pursuing the tobacco industry. Those who predicted that these Prohibitionists' campaigns would spread from campaigns against tobacco to campaigns against other industries have been vindicated. Now it is the fast food industry that will be depicted as unscrupulous in its advertising and its health claims. Its executives will be called before government bodies. Company documents will be scrutinized and the industry demonized, which is not that difficult. Is there an industry in the land that does not have critics insisting that the industry is up to no good? There will also be the public statements of the woebegone of this Other America. The trial lawyers and Prohibitionists will come up with such sad sacks as Caesar Barber. He is the complainant in Hirsch's suit. He says of his numerous health problems, "I trace it all back to the high fat, grease and salt, all back to McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King." Allow me to recommend to Barber the splendid figure of our president. He is precisely Barber's age, 56. He took stock of his health a decade or so back and did not need lawyers or Prohibitionists to tell him what was necessary. He demonstrated personal responsibility, and he is now in the pink. He did not need more government regulation and higher excise taxes to direct him toward a better diet and toward exercise. Yet more government regulation and taxation are what the Prohibitionists demand. Ironically, the result will not be a leaner but a more corrupt America, if the tobacco scenario taught us anything. Regulated industries are always subject to the corrupt practices of pressure groups. Substances burdened with high excise taxes are always subject to bootleggers. Given the disparity of onerous taxes on tobacco among the states and municipalities, organized crime is now extending its grip on tobacco sales. Just as the Prohibitionists of the 1920s were the Mafia's best friend, history is repeating itself today, as the Prohibitionists' taxes on tobacco widen the opportunities for Mafia bootleggers to take over tobacco distribution. When the states start imposing more regulation and taxes on junk food, the opportunities for corruption will multiply. Yet, as the robust George W. Bush demonstrates, if we take personal responsibility for our diet, we will not need the Prohibitionists, the trial lawyers and now -- as I hope I have demonstrated -- another of their allies, the Mafia.