All Commentary
Sunday, July 1, 2001

Lifestyle Nazi Update

Incrementalism Is the Strategy of Tyrants

We are not doing the same kind of things with obesity that we have done with smoking and alcohol as far as the government is concerned. It’s got to be like smoking, a constant drumbeat.” That’s former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, appearing on CNN, January 11, 2000, calling for the nation’s lifestyle Nazis to attack fat people as they attacked smokers.

Lifestyle Nazis aren’t settling on just obesity, they’re targeting meat consumption. Dr. Neal Barnard, president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says, “It’s time we looked at holding the meat producers and fast-food outlets legally responsible. Meat consumption is just as dangerous to public health as tobacco use.” Doing their part to ban meat consumption, professors at law schools such as Harvard, Rutgers, and Georgetown are teaching “animal law” courses. Animals are seen as plaintiffs. Law professors are gearing up by studying old slavery statutes that authorized legal nonpersons to bring lawsuits. Possibly, before long, we might see chickens, cows, pigs, and other critters appearing as plaintiffs in court suing for crimes against animals.

Morgan Leyh, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says, “Eating meat is a rich versus poor issue. The rich get fat on meat, while the poor are starving because all the grain is fed to cattle. It’s selfish to eat meat—there is no excuse for eating meat.” So far as America’s poor are concerned, that claim reflects unadulterated stupidity. American obesity is mostly a health problem of poor people. But stupidity and callousness are par for the course for PETA. It was PETA president Ingrid Newkirk who said the slaughter of millions of chickens is a greater tragedy than the Nazi holocaust. She also said that a boy is no more valuable than a clam. PETA has fellow travelers. Guest Choice ( cites one of them, Paul Shapiro, a member of Compassion Over Killing, as saying, “Animals are the most oppressed group on the face of the planet. Eating meat is unethical—it is not your right to say an animal’s life is worth a pleasant taste sensation in your mouth.”

Suppose we didn’t slaughter cows for their meat but, instead, just drank their milk? We wouldn’t be off the hook; there are anti-milk Nazis. Robert Cohen, a.k.a. “Not milk Man,” director of the Anti-Dairy Coalition, says that there is “no nutritional value to drinking milk.” He advises that bone disease is caused by dairy consumption and predicts that we would all live to be 100 years or more were it not for Monsanto’s genetically modified milk.

Then there’s a California organization parading under the lofty name Beverly Hills Consumers for Informed Choice, which gathered enough petition signatures, including celebrities Jack Lemmon, Jay Leno, Vidal Sassoon, Pat Boone, and Sid Caesar, to force the Beverly Hills City Council to call an election. The purpose of the election was for voters to decide whether to enact an ordinance mandating that all fur goods, with a value greater than $50, bear a warning label that reads: “Consumer Notice: This product is made with fur from animals that may have been killed by electrocution, gassing, neck-breaking, poisoning, clubbing, stomping or drowning and may have been trapped in steel-jaw leg hold traps.” (Fortunately, voters defeated the proposal.)

It’s easy to dismiss these people “as only wanting to help” or as having only “limited goals.” Nonsense. I know of no instances where a tyrant has arisen one day and said, “I’m tired of tyrannizing people and I’ll tyrannize no more.” Tyrants have insatiable appetites. Their methodology is incrementalism; confiscating rights in large chunks creates too much resistance. Incrementalism was the strategy of the cigarette Nazis. When they started out, they only wanted nonsmoking sections on airplanes. After that success, they called for no smoking on flights under 500 miles; after that success they demanded no smoking on airplanes at all. Emboldened by those successes, they demanded no smoking in airports and in some cases not within 40 feet of the airport entrance. Then using EPA-sponsored bogus science about the health effects of “secondhand smoke,” they managed to get smoking banned in workplaces, restaurants, hotels, California bars, and in Friendship Heights, Maryland, on the street. That law was later struck down in court. Had the cigarette Nazis revealed their complete agenda when they started out, they would have had little or no success.

Americans who’ve demanded government subsidized health care have been unwitting dupes, or as Comintern called those types, “useful idiots,” for America’s lifestyle Nazis. We’ve given them excuses to interfere with every aspect of our lives in the name of health-care costs. If a behavior impacts health-care costs, today’s lifestyle Nazi is Johnny-on-the-spot with a proposal to regulate that behavior.

Here’s my wager: I bet the lifestyle Nazis are also strong proponents of piecemeal repeal of our Second Amendment guarantees. Why? They want us to be defenseless. If, for example, C. Everett Koop wants me to stop eating meat and Robert Cohen wants me to stop drinking milk, let them physically stop me. I doubt they would risk the possibility of grave bodily injury. They’re cowards. So instead they want to enlist Congress and the courts to go after weak sisters—America’s restaurant owners and businessmen.

Many of us mistakenly label these people “nannies,” an inappropriate term for those who’d use the coercive, brutal powers of government to impose their values on others. More fitting labels are: tyrants, totalitarians, and yes, Nazis.

  • Walter Williams served on the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics since 1980. He was the author of more than 150 publications that have appeared in scholarly journals. Learn more about him here.