New York' City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the new Carrie Nation, and that's no small thing because she was no small thing.
Says one biographer, she was the "prime dragoness on a field strewn with the bones of sinners," a hatchet-wielding, epithet-spouting, hymn-singing crusader who broke whatever was breakable and threw bricks at whatever moved. Her purpose was to stymie booze consumption through bar destruction.
She started her demolition derby in Kansas City, Mo., did most of her handiwork between 1900 and 1910, was dubiously a follower of the Prince of Peace and intemperately a leader of the temperance movement that ultimately pushed the nation to Prohibition.
When you saw all 6 feet of her headed toward you, you'd likely get out of the way or call the cops, who stuck her in jail 30 times.
This firebrand figured she knew truths others should heed, and not just about alcohol. She also hated sex, government and tobacco, according to Robert Lewis Taylor in Vessel of Wrath. Bloomberg seems to have some different attitudes -- he certainly cherishes government -- but is similarly on a mission to save wayward souls with his supposed moral insights.
One of those is that it's devilish connivance to sell sugary drink in containers of 16 ounces or bigger. He said as much last September as he urged the city's health board to limit the horror with a law that's in the news again because it's due to take effect March 12. Bloomberg is ecstatic.
"This is the single biggest step I think any city has ever taken to curb obesity, but certainly not the last step that lots of cities are going to take," he said. "And we believe it will help save lives."
I don't think so. I think sugar pursuers will buy two smaller drinks for more money than one would have cost. Maybe that expense will curtail sugar consumption to some slight degree, but not enough to be noticed, I would suggest, and no lives will be saved, only made more difficult.
What we have here, much as with Prohibition, are good intentions doing no discernible good. Instead, Prohibition did lots of harm -- the outcome again and again of government interventions. Clearly, some regulations are needed for public safety, but we as a nation are now enmeshed in enough, it sometimes seems, to stop every human activity except maybe sneezes if they were effectively enforced. It's no exaggeration to say they sometimes do more to endanger lives than protect them, and meanwhile we are less and less free. The last thing we need is to have states and localities join with Uncle Sam to leave no soda cup unturned.
This, by the way, is hardly Bloomberg's first hatchet job on decisions that should stay private. He banished smoking in parks where the secondhand smoke would drift harmlessly away, limited salt in restaurant food as if that were his business and even got in the way of charitable food contributions he thought might be fattening. He's right, of course, that obesity is an issue in America, but here's something interesting about that matter.
A federal test showed that children it studied in 2011 had been consuming fewer calories than before but still putting on weight. One guess is they were getting less exercise than they had been, and one thesis is that this was partly because of fewer recesses at schools trying to meet federal demands for better academic performance. It's the age-old story of unintended consequences, but a story our let's-pretend saviors in politics refuse to learn.
Carrie Nation once got her comeuppance when she met a woman with a broom handle, and while I wish no similar whacking for Bloomberg, I would like to see him do what Nation then did: skedaddle from the intrusion.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.)