Opinion: Freedom to make dumb decisions

March 13, 2013


Perhaps you remember when Dr. Doom conquered the world.

Or perhaps you don’t. Sadly enough, even in this day and age, not everyone is comic book literate.

Suffice it to say, then, that back in the ‘80s, Marvel Comics published a graphic novel in which the villainous Victor Von Doom achieved his dearest goal: to rule the world. And he made it a better place, too. Famine ended, the stock market climbed, crime fell, occupying armies withdrew, racial oppression vanished. Doom turned the planet into a paradise and the only cost of his beneficence was free will. He created a device that took away the ability of human beings to decide for themselves.

When the Avengers defeated him, the world returned to rack and ruin as humanity reasserted its right to be as bleeped up as it wanted to be. The Avenger Hawkeye wondered aloud if they had done the right thing. Whereupon Captain America admonished him, “The world isn’t perfect. … But people are free to make their own choices — and that’s the way it should be.”

He could have been talking to Michael Bloomberg.

The emperor — beg pardon, the mayor — of New York City was defeated Monday, not by the Avengers, but by a state Supreme Court judge, Milton Tingling, who struck down Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of extra large, non-diet soft drinks. Justice Tingling, though not known to possess superpowers, nevertheless zapped the forces of overreach. “Arbitrary and capricious,” he called the restrictions, which would have taken effect Tuesday.

But Bloomberg’s ban was more than that. It was the very definition of liberalism run amok, a good idea (people should limit their intake of sugary soft drinks) driven headlong into the weeds of overkill, over-regulation and basic preposterousness. The resemblance to conservative extremism and its resort to unwieldy laws to govern behaviors it disapproves (did someone say transvaginal ultrasound?), is doubtless unintended, but no less real even so.

Apparently, if you send two people venturing out, one to the extreme left, and the other to the extreme right, of our political spectrum, they will end up face to face. Because the distinguishing characteristic of extreme liberalism or extreme conservatism is the extremism; itself, the fact that some people just don’t know when to quit.

Obviously, the state is sometimes obliged to impose restrictions. One shouldn’t be allowed to sell Camels to kindergartners. Or do 90 on a residential street. Or discriminate by race, creed, gender, condition or sexual orientation.

But there is a difference between those restrictions the state imposes to protect the health, welfare and property of those around us from us or defend the vulnerable from exploitation and those the state imposes to regulate behavior that is simply unwise. The latter reflects a lack of faith in the wisdom of people, their ability, when properly informed, to make the right choice.

Yes, obesity is a crisis impacting our health, our economy and even, some have argued, our national security. We are a lard butt nation waddling toward demise. Got it.

Yet, if Americans kicked their cigarette addiction by a public campaign that educated them to the dangers thereof, what reason do we have to believe they would not be able to kick sugary soft drinks by the same means? None.

So Bloomberg is wrong, and Captain America was right. If one is not free to make one’s own bad or stupid decisions, then one is not free. It is an abiding truth of which we seem to need constant reminders.

Perhaps you remember the axiom about eternal vigilance being the price of freedom. If so, you will not be surprised to hear that Dr. Doom, as he escaped, said he was only defeated “for now.” Or that Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


UfoPilot 5 years, 3 months ago

I want to be free to NOT buy health insurance.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

And you are free in that manner, and will continue to be when the ACA is fully implemented.

You might have to pay a small penalty for making that choice.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

Not at all.

If insurance is mandatory, then everybody has to have it. If a fine is high enough to be a real hardship, then it's essentially forcing people to buy it. But when the fines are very low, and there are many exceptions to them, it's a very different situation.

Since the fine is a very small percentage of what health insurance would cost, many people may make the choice not to buy it, and come out better financially. Of course, then they're uninsured.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

Did you read the part of that article which stated that the government is streamlining the applications?

Liberty275 5 years, 3 months ago

You can drive without a license and if they catch you, it's just a small penalty.

Is it legal to drive without a licence?

Hint: use the word tax instead. That's what the legislature did.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

It's actually what the SC did.

Of course, it's a funny little word game - the "tax" actually functions as a fine or penalty, not a tax.

But, as far as I know, it's still legal to not buy health insurance - the SC ruled that the government can't mandate the purchase of it.

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

OK but then you will also be free to be denied access to government subsidized medial care later ion life. Asking others to pay for you when you are sick but avoiding paying when you are well is simple greed.

It is a ponzi scheme just like medicare and Social security. You pay for years in order to earn (strange word)) a return be it a retirement supplement or an old age medical p[program (soon to be an all age medial program) means tested

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

Buy that loose definition, just about anything could be called a ponzi scheme.

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

Not really. The notion is I pay for your parents (so do you) and your kids pay for us. If the "investment" is honored (with general revenue money or future taxes) it works. Otherwise it is truly a ponzi scheme

Shelley Bock 5 years, 3 months ago

So, you want to mooch off everyone else who will have to pay your medical bills when you're sick or injured.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 3 months ago

A person's poor choices affects others also, sometimes seriously. A problem is that so many aren't aware of that basic fact. Or maybe, they simply don't care.

Richard07 5 years, 3 months ago

You are absolutely correct. That sums it up nicely. I guess the tipping point is "Where exactly does the "affecting others, sometimes seriously" warrant direct government intervention which results in loss of personal choice. That's a tough one. I can think of so many choices people make on a daily basis that negatively affect me, my family, our environment and security that go unchallenged that I would be up all night creating even a partial list.

George Lippencott 5 years, 3 months ago

There is hope!!

"But Bloomberg’s ban was more than that. It was the very definition of liberalism run amok, a good idea (people should limit their intake of sugary soft drinks) driven headlong into the weeds of overkill,"

Dan Matthews 5 years, 3 months ago

What we learned from this op-ed? Don't get between a liberal writer and his Big Gulp.....

Liberty275 5 years, 3 months ago

Bloomberg... and you people wonder why there was a tea party movement.

Mike Ford 5 years, 3 months ago

oh these crying people and a health care act that requires them to buy insurance and not be a burden on others......oh the crime (laughter).

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