Compliant Americans


Last month, at a Raeford, N.C., elementary school, a teacher confiscated the lunch of a 5-year-old girl because it didn’t meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines and therefore was deemed nonnutritious. She replaced it with school cafeteria chicken nuggets. The girl’s home-prepared lunch was nutritious; it consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich, potato chips, a banana and apple juice. But whether her lunch was nutritious or not is not the issue. The issue is governmental usurpation of parental authority.

In a number of states, pregnant teenage girls may be given abortions without the notification or the permission of parents. The issue is neither abortion nor whether a pregnant teenager should have an abortion. The issue is this: What gives the government the authority to usurp parental authority?

Part of the problem is that people who act as instruments of government do not pay a personal price for usurping parental authority. The reason is Americans, unlike Americans of yesteryear, have become timid and, as such, come to accept all manner of intrusive governmental acts. Can you imagine what a rugged American, such as one portrayed by John Wayne, would have done to a government tyrant who confiscated his daughter’s lunch or facilitated her abortion without his permission?

I believe that the anti-tobacco movement partially accounts for today’s compliant American. Tobacco zealots started out with “reasonable” demands, such as the surgeon general’s warning on cigarette packs. Then they demanded nonsmoking sections on airplanes. Emboldened by that success, they demanded no smoking at all on airplanes and then airports and then restaurants and then workplaces — all in the name of health. Seeing the compliant nature of smokers, they’ve moved to ban smoking on beaches, in parks and on sidewalks in some cities. Now they’re calling for higher health insurance premiums for smokers. Had the tobacco zealots demanded their full agenda when they started out, they would not have achieved anything.

Using the anti-tobacco crusade as their template and finding Americans so compliant, zealots and would-be tyrants are extending their agenda. Why not control what we eat? San Francisco, Chicago and several other cities have outlawed or are seeking to outlaw serving foie gras in restaurants. Here’s my challenge to these people: Don’t be a coward and use the state to accomplish your agenda. If you see Williams eating foie gras, just come up and take it off his plate.

Other food tyrants want to stop us from eating Dove and Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Mrs. Fields cookies and McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. San Francisco has already banned McDonald’s from selling Happy Meals with toys in them as sales pitches to children. Seeing San Franciscan compliance may have been the source of inspiration for the North Carolina schoolteacher who took the 5-year-old girl’s lunch.

Americans have become compliant in nation-crippling ways. Over the past several years, gasoline prices have been shooting through the roof, but not to worry. President Barack Obama’s current secretary of energy, Steven Chu, said in December 2008, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” That translates to $8 or $9 a gallon. During a recent hearing on the Department of Energy’s budget, Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., asked Secretary Chu whether it is the DOE’s “overall goal” to lower gasoline prices. “No,” Chu responded. “The overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy.”

Because Americans are so compliant and willing to suffer silently at the gasoline pump, the Obama administration is willing to press on as handmaidens of environmental extremists who want to halt the exploration of our country’s vast oil supplies, which are estimated to be triple those of Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration would rather pour more taxpayer dollars into risky alternative crony energy suppliers and electric cars. The OPEC nations have to be laughing at us, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were revealed that they are making under-the-table payments to environmental wackos.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

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