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
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.