The Post-Reductio Challenge

The Hemingway Star returns with this exclusive report on the growing nanny state, “Congress passes USA LOWFAT Act of 2004.” Satire? Of course. Made up? Not entirely.

Back in November of ’03 Radley Balko published an op-ed called “Post Reductio America.” He argued that we’re in a time where what would have been a reductio ad absurdum a few years ago is a commonplace today. For instance, back when the class action lawsuits against tobacco companies first got started, asking why we didn’t sue fast food companies for making us fat seemed like a good reductio argument. Now it’s really happening.

To see how much reductio creep we’ve suffered, I decided to try writing this fake article with as many real quotes as possible. Read it first, then come back here and continue reading to see what’s made up and what’s real. It’s not always easy to tell them apart.

Obviously, the USA LOWFAT Act of 2004 is something I made up. But the quote that follows is real. U. S. Surgeon General Carmona is quoted on the frontpage of this website for a conference sponsored by the life-of-the-party Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Carmona says, “As we look to the future and where childhood obesity will be in twenty years, it is every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the threat from within.” [Hat tip to Radley]

The second Carmona quote is also legit: “[It is] a threat that is every bit as real to America as the weapons of mass destruction.” Well then, that’s a comforting thought!

Several of the USA LOWFAT provisions are real or proposed. A number of activists are advocating for a fat tax or Twinkie tax. Ads for children are already regulated with many pushing for tighter control or an outright ban. Several states have passed laws banning soda vending machines in public schools.

The Homeland Obesity Advisory System is just something I made up (for now!), as is the quote about “Osama bin Ladens of sugary fundamentalism,” etc. But hey, it perfectly fits Carmona’s chosen metaphor.

The next quote about moving from “a treatment-oriented society to a prevention-oriented society” is real. The following sentence about a pre-emptive strike is not.

Fat accessible parking spaces? That idea came to me while I was in the parking lot of a local Harris Teeter grocery store. The place had designated spaces for the handicapped, for pregnant women, and for people with children. Fat spaces located as far from the store as possible struck me as a funny concept. The “Get moving!” quote from Carmona is real, but taken from a completely innocent context.

The next quote is also real: “We can promote bicycling and walking until we are blue in the face,” says Andy Clarke, executive director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, “but unless the government takes the position they prefer people to walk and bike then we won’t make the political decisions necessary.” Here he’s talking about community planning to make this happen. We can only speculate if that would include my special parking spaces.

The Clark Maxwell quote (and Maxwell himself) is fictional, but inspired by a quote from Daniel Hager of the Mackinac Center in a RWJF sponsored article. He was there as equal (far from equal!) time. “Government has sunk its teeth into this issue with the gusto of the famished devouring a juicy steak,” he said.

“Our government’s response to the war on obesity, a condition that contributes to up to several hundred thousand deaths a year, is the equivalent of sending Cub Scouts armed with popguns to fight foreign wars. Can you imagine Defense Secretary Rumsfeld saying that the way to fight terrorism is to give awards to the nicest members of the Taliban?” I would have made that one up, but CSPI’s Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson beat me to it. That was him speaking [.pdf] at the Food and Drug Law Institute.

Fatty foods trying to assassinate Dick Cheney? Yeah, that’s a joke. Mary Wootan’s statement about personal responsibility is not.

And finally, Caesar Barber’s confusion over the health benefits of 100% beef? Sad, but true.

So there you have it. This little exercise hasn’t really proved anything, but I was surprised (and disturbed) at how easy it was to fit quotes and ideas from the nanny state crowd into the piece. I know comparing a problem to terrorism is trendy these days, but Big Macs are a long way from dirty bombs.

One last quote I didn’t put in: “Dad’s got a new job, we’ll have to do this French fry thing covertly from now on.” — Carmona to his son, after being seen in public enjoying some greasy, greasy French fries.

Final bit of amusement: I’m still in the learning process when it comes to Photoshop, so making the fat accessible parking sign involved a few false starts. Here’s one I like to call “Eggman Parking Only.”


4 thoughts on “The Post-Reductio Challenge”

  1. The reasoning behind all the Nanny State dictitates seems to me to be “I don’t want to be responsible for my own descisions or actions. I don’t have the will-power to do anything responsibly so therefore the government should make me do what’s good for me.” This presupposes that what’s good for one is good for all. A “twinkie tax” would impose financial responsibilities on those of us who can and do take care of ourselves for those people who won’t. Unlike high taxes on tobacco products, these would affect everyone.

  2. I really liked your piece there. For a second, I thought I was reading something real, but thinking in the back of my mind “too good to be true…” And then, I realized it was fictional (of course when I got to the end!) I couldn’t have told what was true and what wasn’t until I got to this page. In any respect, I think people shoud stop pointing fingers at others (as in the ridiculous lawsuits against the tobacco companies or fastfood resturants)for the choices they make everyday whatever the outcome may be. As the saying goes, “we reap what we sow.” Blaming others is not going to achieve anything good for anyone.

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