We’ve Been Had: Reagan’s Words Have Gone Unheeded

-By Daniel Clark

In Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address, he described America by saying, “We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around.” Thirty years later, that doesn’t exactly ring true.

During the 2008 primaries, Barack Obama told a group of supporters in Oregon that, “We can’t drive our SUVs, and eat as much as we want, and keep our homes at 72 degrees at all times, and then just expect that other countries are going to say, ‘oh, okay.’ That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen.” Exercising our freedom as consumers is “not going to happen?” Spoken like the future leader of a government that has a nation.

This September, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack lectured representatives of the National Restaurant Association about the amount of salt and sugar in their food, as part of an intimidation campaign with which several large restaurant chains are already “cooperating.” Of course, salt and sugar cost money, so if it made good business sense for restaurants to reduce the amounts they use, they would have done so already. They haven’t because the food just won’t taste as good, as you’re well aware if you’ve ever accidentally bought a can of low-sodium soup, and then carpet-bombed it with salt in an attempt to make it palatable.

Naturally, our federal overseers have thought of a solution to this. “It’s going to take time for people’s tastes to adjust, ” Vilsack said. “So we have to make sure that what we do is create the appropriate transition.” Not only will the government dictate what food is allowed to be served to us, but it is going to make us eat it and like it.

That statement of Vilsack’s crystallizes the liberal Democrats’ view of the relation between themselves and the people they are supposed to serve. If they must govern by the consent of the people, then they will determine that to which the people consent. When they decide that you’ll eat more peas and less pizza, they’ll just send one of their taste adjusters over to give your buds a tweak.

Do you doubt it? They’ve already succeeded in “creating the appropriate transition” to change people’s preferences about what kind of vehicle to drive. Not long ago, SUVs were outrageously popular, but big-government liberals decided that people shouldn’t want SUVs, and lo, people don’t want SUVs.

Under the guise of “saving the planet,” our government has done almost everything imaginable to retard domestic energy production, making ownership of a low-mileage vehicle enough of a hardship to outweigh its benefits. Therefore, more people now “want” the kinds of vehicles that liberals say they should want. This is an example of what “Regulatory Czar” Cass Sunstein calls “nudging.”

In Sunstein’s Orwellian model of “libertarian paternalism,” individuals are free to make their own choices in life, but only after their government “choice architects” have already “nudged” them toward the preferred liberal outcomes. Therefore, if all goes according to plan, the government will have decided what your “choice” is, long before you’ve had the opportunity to make it.

The Regulatory Czar oversees regulations across the entire executive branch, which is why Vilsack’s language is so derivative of Sunstein’s. To “create the appropriate transition” for your tastes to adjust is simply to “nudge” you out of making the choices you would really rather make. Once your “choice architects” have bullied fast food restaurants into ruining their french fries, for example, you probably won’t eat them as often, if at all.

Had this band of aspiring omnipotents gained power through subterfuge, that would be a simple enough problem to correct. Instead, it was willfully given to them by 53 percent of the voters, less than six months after Obama had told us that we’re not fit to govern our own houses, cars and stomachs.

It’s not that a majority of voters necessarily wanted the government to start dictating our tastes, but the lack of outrage at Obama’s remarks was the next worst thing. So eager were so many people to be a “part of history” that they couldn’t be bothered to notice that their candidate was exhibiting totalitarian tendencies.

As a result of that indifference, we are now a nation that is being had by a government. We’d better reverse this situation while we still can, because as Reagan warned, “If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.” And don’t think Obama and his “choice architects” are unaware of that.
Daniel Clark is the author and editor of a web publication called The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press, where he also publishes a seasonal sports digest as The College Football Czar.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001