A war on … soda pop?

Drop that Big Gulp! Step away from the Big Gulp!

That’s the message in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on sugary soft drinks of more than 16 ounces at restaurants, movie theaters, delis and – unbelievably – even hot dog vending carts.

Bloomberg’s administration has also banned smoking in public places (including bars), artificial trans fats served in restaurants and packaged foods, and is cracking down on salt. He says his assault on sugary soft drinks is all about fighting the American obesity epidemic.

“I look across the county and people are obese and everybody wrings their hands, and nobody’s willing to do something about it,” Bloomberg said, according to Reuters. “Nobody is taking away any of your rights. This way, we’re just telling you, ‘That’s a lot of soda.’ ”

Ah, but has the mayor considered the diabolical solution that occurred to me recently when a local coffeehouse ran out of large cups? I simply bought two smaller cups! (Perhaps Bloomberg will consider a one-per-person amendment to his soda ban.)

Of course, the ease with which the mayor’s plan can be thwarted illustrates how ill-advised and pointless it is to ban what we’ll no doubt come to call in government parlance “large-capacity soda cups.” The companies that produce these sugary treats know their customers, and they know Americans want their product, and a lot of it. And American consumers have a peculiar way of getting what they want.

Whenever the nanny state rears its ugly head, my colleagues here at the Review-Journal’s editorial page delight in reminding me that it is generally the left – “my peeps,” as they say – who are responsible. Liberals in general push for helmet laws, seat belt laws, put-the-calorie-count-on-the-menu laws and the like.

Sadly, it’s generally true, although it shouldn’t be. Liberals who champion the personal freedoms to be pro-choice, pro-free speech and often pro-drug legalization ought to be the people most likely to champion the concomitant virtue of personal responsibility that goes along with that freedom.

In other words, drink an acre-foot of regular Coke if you want, but understand the consequences that attend that decision.  

Instead, it’s the libertarians who are the most consistent, opposing a government that can tell you what you can’t put in your body every bit as much as one that tells frozen pizza makers they must disclose what’s in their pies.

But I’m unwilling to buy into that all-or-nothing approach. I still think that if we’re wise about exercising what John Philpot Curran called the eternal vigilance that is the price of freedom, we can have a government big enough to run a social safety net but smart enough to stay out of our kitchens and drive-through windows. It will take a dose of increasingly rare common sense, but it can be done.

On the other hand, overreaching is easily foreseeable. Justice Antonin Scalia was making a point in March when he asked government lawyers defending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act if the government could require people to eat broccoli as well as buy health insurance. Is it really that hard to see the Bloombergs of the world arguing that – if we are all in the health care market by virtue of being alive – we must be forced to eat broccoli, if only to reduce the higher cost of insurance due to the obese?

Is it hard to see the regulators arguing that, as the lawyers say, the goal of reducing insurance costs is rationally related and narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest?

I hope it doesn’t come to that, although we should be on guard to see that it doesn’t. In the meantime, Mayor Bloomberg may have my animal-style In-N-Out Double Double when he pries it from my cold, dead, special-sauce-stained fingers.


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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