Big Brother Bloomberg: A Uniter, Not a Divider

The arch-nanny of New York City may have finally crossed a consumer freedom bridge too far. The American people hate his proposal to ban sodas larger than one pint, and New Yorkers have weighed in against it too, starting with comedian Jon Stewart.

We expected as much, but the depth and breadth of opposition and outrage has been heartening for the future of consumer freedom. Even New York City Councilmembers, fresh from trying to ban food-truck promotions, aren’t having the mayor’s latest power-grab.

Take Councilman Leroy Comrie, who tried to ban kids’ meal toys in 2011. At a hearing and while sipping on a 32-ounce soft drink, the councilman grilled Hizzoner’s health tsar, Thomas Farley, saying of his large soda: “This was a personal choice.” Then there’s lead food-truck finger-wagger Christine Quinn. The Council speaker told The New York Times that the ban was “more on the punitive side of things” than she cares for.

The ban also got the attention of state legislators, who might move to overrule Bloomberg and Farley. The State Assembly speaker told the New York Post: “We may be getting too close to Big Brother. I just think we ought to step back and look at the freedoms that we have been given in this country and reflect on them.”

And it’s not every day that the editorial boards of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times agree, but Bloomberg has done what seems impossible in a polarized age. The Journal editorial board had this to say: “An America that needs government to protect its citizens from 20-ounce sodas has bigger problems than obesity.”

The editorial board of the Times also thought Bloomberg crossed a line: “too much nannying with a ban might well cause people to tune out.” The reporting on school treat bans certainly indicates that this will be the case.

The experts are hardly lined up behind Dear Nanny either. In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer a Duke University physician who backs Bloomberg’s trans fat ban panned the soda ban as doomed to fail. Another physician told ABC News that legislation is no substitute for a personal decision to change lifestyle habits to lose weight.

Behavioral economists from Cornell who specialize in portion size research also threw cold water on Bloomberg’s plan. They noted that adopting doomed policies weakens support for any smarter policies in the future and also criticized the city for electing to work against restaurants rather than with them. “Encouraging greater sales of healthier beverages—using a carrot instead of a stick—would be welcomed by struggling retailers and manufacturers alike,” they wrote.

So public opinion, many of Bloomberg’s usual allies, the top two New York-based newspapers on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and even much expert opinion are against the soda ban. Who said politicians couldn’t bring a nation together?

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