Law can’t save us from ourselves

July 1, 2012


A recent New Yorker magazine cover shows a man and woman in a dark alley recoiling in fear and shame as if caught in an illicit act. A large cup with a straw leaps from their hands. It took me a minute to catch on. Then I understood: They’ve been discovered violating New York Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on the sale of soft drinks that exceed 16 fluid ounces with more than 50 calories. When the liberal New Yorker makes fun of the Nanny State, you know that the Nanny State has gone too far.

About the same time, a columnist for the Kansas City Star praised Bloomberg for the same ban.

“We should be rooting for Bloomberg’s downsizing plan to succeed, and hope that other leaders have the guts to copy it,” wrote the columnist. “Seriously, nobody needs a 32-ounce soda. If you’re worried about staying hydrated — an advantage that the soft drink industry touts for its products — there’s a stuff called water. It’s really pretty good.”

Ah, the pieties of the virtuous. I rarely touch a soft drink – my preferences lie in the realm of martinis – but this sort of admonition almost tempts me to dash to the convenience store and order a 120-ounce root beer float. In response to the sanctimonious glorification of water, I raise the motto of the Free State Brewing Co.: “Because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.”

The Star columnist went on to say that mayors all over the country have embarked on “very public weight loss” regimens. Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who admits to a weakness for barbecue and soul food, is competing with Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Heeter to see who can lose the most weight. Mayors of Newark, N.J., Oklahoma City, Boston and other cities have gone public with their appeals to downsize, apparently inspired by Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign. Politicians used to kiss babies to win office. Next thing you know, they’ll appeal for our votes on the basis of their slender waists.

Not that long ago, a prodigious belly was a sign of prosperity, success. A lean man was considered mean and untrustworthy. President William Howard Taft weighed 335 pounds when he left the White House. By the way, wouldn’t it be nice if our weight-watching politicians would cut back on their taxing and spending habits too?

We live in strange times. Half the country wants the government to solve all its problems, the other half wants the government to get off its back. My guess is that Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative won’t work. Remember what happened during Prohibition? Booze became more glamorous. The same thing will happen in response to the Bloomberg ban. Scofflaws will gather in speak-easies to quaff soft drinks sweetened by high fructose corn syrup, lured by the thrill of transgression.

But if busybodies like Mayor Bloomberg are determined to save us from ourselves, why stop at a ban on soft drinks? How about a ban on loud, inane cell phone talk in public and thumping car speakers that make the ground shake? How about a ban on body piercing and “sagging,” the practice of wearing pants about the knees? Humanity could be much improved by a general ban on incivility and bad taste. I’d be all in favor of a ban like that.

— George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


cato_the_elder 5 years, 10 months ago

"By the way, wouldn’t it be nice if our weight-watching politicians would cut back on their taxing and spending habits too?"

You bet it would.

Great column.

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P Allen Macfarlane 5 years, 10 months ago

My question is where does your freedom to indulge in your personal habits (smoking, drinking. overeating or eating poorly) stop and the results of your indulgences impinge on my freedom (to live unharmed or to not be burdened financially because of your habits)? It's about you and me taking personal responsibility and part of that responsibility is social. When you burden the health care system and the insurance companies with your medical conditions that were avoidable or kill or maim somebody because you indulged in too many alcoholic drinks or shared your smoke with too many non-smokers, that is being irresponsible. It's as simple as that.

booyalab 5 years, 10 months ago

We used to be able to easily opt out of paying for other people's insurance, and the insurance companies could decide who they would cover.

ivalueamerica 5 years, 10 months ago

that is a very false and misleading statement. What you mean would happen is that if someone's insurance did not pay, they would either just run up a huge debt in the hospital that we all would have to pay eventually anyway, or as is often the case, they would die and leave us to pay for their family who can not support themselves without the breadwinner still alive.....but please, never let the facts get in a way of a good rant. We will continue to pretend you know what you are talking about.

ThePilgrim 5 years, 10 months ago

Ban large drinks and the same people will simply buy two smaller drinks. Duh. Ray Kroc of McDonald's was not supportive of when the pack of large fries was introduced. Fries were only in one size. "If you want more fries, you just buy another one".

Try counting calories and losing weight. I walk on the elliptical at pronto speed for 30 minutes and it burns 120 calories. If I realize the consequential impact before buying that 280 calorie 20 oz Mountain Dew soda I am less likely to buy it. I gave up soda not long ago. Lost five pounds in the first week.

verity 5 years, 10 months ago

Not necessarily. Two 16 oz drinks cost a lot more than one 32 oz. I rarely buy soda drinks anymore, but I used to buy the large because it cost so little more than the smaller ones. And often the ice melted and they lost the fizz before I finished them, so I ended up dumping them, which makes me wonder how many large drinks get finished.

ThePilgrim 5 years, 10 months ago

Scalia correctly brought broccoli into the Obamacare Supreme Court case when it was being argued before the court. If gov't can tell you what to buy then the next likely step is to tell you to only eat broccoli.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

And yet, given this decision, the government has the right to mandate any purchase of products it feels like mandating, and apply a tax if we don't purchase them.

It concerns me, as I don't trust the government not to use that more widely now.

Alyosha 5 years, 10 months ago

This is a silly argument, because a) it's highly unlikely that a national government would ever try to make citizens eat broccoli (ever seen anyone running on that or a similar platform? neither have I), and b) even if that extremely unlikely event ever were to happen, our system of government has many checks and balances to make sure that the sponsors and passers of such an inane law would be thrown out of office and the law repealed.

There is an infinite number of things that might happen, and basing law or policy on fears, not actual circumstances, is the sign of a citizenry unmoored and incapable of critical thinking.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

This is the first time that the SC has ruled that a penalty for not buying a product is a 'tax", and allows the federal government to impose that sort of penalty.

Once the power is there, I have little faith that it won't be used in other ways.

Liberty275 5 years, 10 months ago

I'd like to see these fools of politicians do a year of blue collar where outside you can't tell your personal assistant to go fetch a 16 ounce cup with ice and coke for you. Some people are too busy working to go get a drink every time they are thirsty, and a 32 ounce coke gives you about 12 ounces of coke and 20 ounces of cold water you can drink throughout the morning as the ice melts. Also, the acid in the coke buffers down the alkaline tap water you are shoving down your throats.

When laws becomes jokes, people will break more of them. If I ever bother going back to NYC (which I really enjoy), the first think I'll do is find a a McDonalds and drink four 16 OZ cokes, which I'll equate with giving nanny bloomberg and other idiot politicians of his ilk the finger. Besides, Coke is yummy.

On a related note, I also decide when I need my seatbelt. My mother died some years back and I didn't ask for a new one to tell me what is good for me.

"I raise the motto of the Free State Brewing Co"

Do they have 40s?

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

You seem to be interested in cutting off your nose to spite your face, if you want to drink 64 oz. of soda.

I hope you know of the health risks associated with that sort of activity.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

Of course it is.

I don't support making these sorts of things illegal.

But, I do support education, and informed consent. If he knows it's a stupid thing to do, and will probably result in poor health and chooses to do so anyway, that's his business.

Of course, I'd like for his poor choices not to drive up my insurance premiums.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago


You usually seem very level headed to me.

Are you really equating something like drinking a gallon of soda with those activities?

There's a big difference between things that contain a little risk, but are otherwise reasonable things to do, and things like that, in my view.

Or smoking, or drinking to excess, or taking drugs, etc.

I make good choices in my life regarding my health, I try to drive intelligently, etc. As a result, I can guarantee you that my choices aren't driving up your premiums - in fact, if I calculated the amounts I've paid in and the amounts used, I'm absolutely certain that I've paid in a lot more than I've used, which means that I've been paying for other people's health care for quite a while.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

The article is right. We can't control ourselves from ourselves and we shouldn't allow the government to tell us what we can and cannot do. This is why we must now do away with drunk driving laws, drug laws, laws against pedophilia -- heck, laws in general. We just can't help ourselves from doing things that the pesky government wants us not to do, so why should there be laws against anything? Your nanny state isn't allowing me to be my true self, even if my true self is a murderer. Pesky government.

George Gurley, you are wrong when you say that half the population wants the government to solve all our problems. That is just a bold faced lie too often repeated by conservatives. Nobody wants the government to solve everything, but rather, we expect our government to put laws in place to control some things. If you disagree, then I guess you agree that there shouldn't be laws against things like rape, stealing and murder ... or do you want the government to do something about these issues? Would you mind if I dump toxins on my property, which just so happens to be next to yours, or would you prefer the government put laws in place that will prevent me from doing this?

I'm not sorry to say, but anarchy is not the way to strengthen a society. Like it or not, you are part of a society. There are some rules we want government to enact, and some we do not. Agreeing with some of those rules does not mean someone wants the government to control all aspects of our lives.

And no, I do not want the government to limit the size of soda someone else's fat kids can purchase. The 260lb eigth-grader should be allowed to purchase a 44 oz bucket of sugary water. However, I can understand why Bloomberg is trying to do something about an obvious problem. It is why we no longer allow children to buy cigarettes -- or do you believe they should be allowed to do so and that the government is just being a nanny state by preventing it? In the past, as Gurley notes, politicians used to kiss babies to try and win votes. Now, the babies are too fat to even pick up.

I don't agree with Bloomberg, but I appreciate why he is trying to do something. The conversation should not end at whether or not government is overreaching, but what can be done about the obvious problem of obesity we have in our country.

verity 5 years, 10 months ago

"you are wrong when you say that half the population wants the government to solve all our problems."

That line struck me too. I've never heard even the most extreme leftist say that, let alone half the people. Thanks for calling that piece of rubbish out. We need to quit letting that sort of flagrant misinformation stand.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

"you are wrong when you say that half the population wants the government to solve all our problems"

But then, will they accept free stuff from the government, whether needed or not, whether deserved or not. Maybe there's a certain percentage that don't want their problems solved at all, not by the government, not by themselves, so they can spend their life getting that free stuff.

verity 5 years, 10 months ago

Maybe, I don't know, but that doesn't negate the point we were making.

I know that you will keep on until you have the last word, but I think you are trying to muddy the waters to obscure the point being made.

deec 5 years, 10 months ago

"whether needed or not". Kind of like the $750 billion spent annually worldwide subsidizing big oil?

Alyosha 5 years, 10 months ago

You need to define who "they" are -- and if you can't, your claim is irrational and based only on fantasy.

This comment suffers greatly from hyperbole and unexamined beliefs.

Orwell 5 years, 10 months ago

When anyone makes such an unwaranted generalization as "half the population wants the government to solve all our problems," the real and tragic claim is that half the population should be ignored outright. Gurley's political prejudice does a disservice to public discourse and representative government, regardless of one's feelings about a particular issue.

booyalab 5 years, 10 months ago

So buying a soda is no better than being murdered or raped.

booyalab 5 years, 10 months ago

"By golly, if we can't ban soda....then why even have a law against murder!" Yes, I know...we're monsters.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

The comment was about the statement that half of our society wants government to control all things. That isn't true. Do you like basing arguments on things that aren't true?

verity 5 years, 10 months ago

This law, like others, (and I'm not commenting on the law itself) comes about because people do stupid things and don't take personal responsibility.

We have a nation of too many people who are unhealthy because of their own choices and, one way or another, Obamacare or not, we all pay for it.

The point of the column has been hashed and rehashed interminably (really, did we need another column on this?) but I think we're missing the real point.

Why do we choose to behave irresponsibly when it's bad both for us personally and for the community as a whole? If we can't solve that, then we just go round and round and round---

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

Don't you mean ... "then we just get rounder and rounder and rounder---"?

verity 5 years, 10 months ago

tange, please let me continue to imagine you as tall, dark and handsome.

booyalab 5 years, 10 months ago

None of these nanny state laws surprise me anymore. What does surprise me is when I learn about a law reversal like the lift on the happy hour ban. The problem with laws is they're much easier to add than subtract.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 10 months ago

We need to remember that we do not live by ourselves but that every action we take affects those around us. If you do things that cause you to have ill health, then those who love you suffer along with you. This is a hard lesson for some people to learn.
Take a long, hard look at the decisions you are making and try to see what that is leading to in the future. Who is going to drive you to all those doctor appointments? What if you need to be admitted to the hospital? This can get trying to the most loving family in the world. There is more involved here than the cost of the medical care, which is important, don't get me wrong, and that is the cost in terms of wear and tear on family and friends.

tbaker 5 years, 10 months ago

Well done George. Excellent piece.

The general idea the founders of the country followed was not to write a law that conflicted with “Natural Law” (human nature) They recognized that a certain percentage of the population is always going to do things most people would agree are harmful for them simply because it is in their nature to do so. The founders of the country finally decided that stopping this “bad” behavior was not the role our government should play. Instead they decided that our government’s main purpose was to protect and guarantee everyone’s freedom and liberty. So long as whatever someone was doing did not infringe upon someone else’s freedoms and liberties they were free to do it.

We should get back to that way of thinking and reduce the amount of government in our lives. Things work so much better when freedom of choice and the natural consequence for lack of personal responsibility are society’s regulators. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of “The 5000 Year Leap.”

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

If natural consequences are good regulators, why do we have an epidemic of obesity?

verity 5 years, 10 months ago

One can't insulate themselves from the consequences of other's bad behavior.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 10 months ago

Natural consequences are indeed good regulators.

The problem is, they act on an evolutionary time scale.

Richard Payton 5 years, 10 months ago

Makes me want to sing Born to be Wild!!! It's just a soda buzz and shakes that got us all worked up. We complain about the too skinny model with ribs showing also. What ever happened to live free?

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