The first time I heard the term “Nanny state” was in the early 1970s. While we all waited in gas lines, on the even or odd days, people complained that police might look at their gas gauges to see if they were just “topping off” or really needed gas. No one ever seemed very interested in my gas gauge, but if some jerk had made me wait longer so he could just get a gallon or two I would have been pissed. Those lines took hours.
Lately I hear the cry of “It’s the nanny state!” a lot, mostly about food safety and health regulations. When they banned the use of trans-fats in food preparation in New York city some felt their right to coronary disease was protected by the constitution. Maybe it is, but the right to contribute to someone else’s coronary issues isn’t. It’s the same with the proposed “Giant soda” ban. While that probably isn’t the most effective regulation ever suggested, the same dynamic applies. Buy 64 ounces of soda if you want, but the vendor might have to sell you 4 separate drinks while assisting you on your way to early diabetes.
We have all heard of the shocking “happy meal toy ban” in San Francisco. Imagine a government so enthused with itself that it imagined it could control who gets a toy at lunch and who doesn’t? “Don’t eat a healthy meal, no toy for you!” Except it wasn’t the “Government,” it was parents. Parents all over San Francisco asked for and overwhelmingly supported the ban, so it passed. Of course, McDonalds countered this dastardly plot by selling the toys on the side for a dime. Thanks Ronald, yet another victory for corporate stinkerhood.
It seems that any health or safety law is a sure target for accusations of “Nanny State-ery.” Smoking bans in public parks, food labeling laws and even seat belt laws have been accused of “governmental interference.” These charges mostly come from people who don’t seem to realize that it’s other citizens that don’t want to be fogged out of the park or want to understand exactly what they're eating and are smart enough to know that a lot of people are too dumb to wear seat belts unless you make them. “Oh, but Officer I wan’t planning to have an accident today!”
I’ve been snagged for my son not wearing a seat belt, right next to the Morris plains railroad station. Completely my fault, I should have been paying attention and he should have been wearing a seat belt. Strangely, after that experience it’s something he always remembers to do now, go figure.
Whether its the legal drinking age, DWI laws or even how old you have to be to buy cigarettes, someone is always convinced that their "rights" are being abused by the Government. But I always notice that while they’re ready to fight the “Government” to death for the rights of a 13 year old to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels and drive around smoking two packs a day, they’re not so keen about going up against Mothers Against Drunk Driving or the American Cancer Society. Good decision, they’ll kick your butt.
The sad truth about the “Nanny state” is that legislators don’t go around just making up laws, your neighbors are twisting their arms and making them do it. The same neighbors who are tired of their medical insurance premiums constantly going up to protect our freedom to abuse ourselves.
So the next time you’re tempted to blame the government for making you sort the recycling or not letting you use good old DDT on the roses, take a quick look into how those laws and regulations came about. You’ll find a bunch of people got together and made it happen. That’s how democracy works.