Monday, August 17, 2009
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 20 Comments
Some US cities are considering a new generation of "sin taxes" on donuts, sodas and other products declared to be inappropriately fattening. The proposed taxes naturally target "junk food" associated with the lower and middle classes, rather than the sort of thing you might find Ted Kennedy or Al Franken consuming at taxpayer expense. Which is the point. Like so much of the liberal program, the obsession with obesity is class warfare disguised as the Liberal Man's Burden to flyover country. So too Europeans hurling fat accusations at each other and at America, is simply a cruder resort to the old bourgeois insult, that dates all the way back to Napoleon disparaging England as a nation of shopkeepers.
Critics point to the government's obligation to force people to make healthier lifestyle choices, an obligation created by the government's own desire to control people's health care, resulting in the kind of Catch 22 paradox that quickly transforms socialism into tyranny. But overweight people being targeted, and threatened with denial of medical care for living what is deemed an unhealthy lifestyle, are being targeted in a way that the vices of the upper classes are not. This leaves the advocates of big government free to treat a cocaine user like Obama as a role model, all the while sneering at those awful soda users, and pretending that a soda drinker makes a worse role model, than a cocaine user.
The idea that obesity is a national crisis only makes sense if you also assume that people cannot look after themselves. If liberals yammer about getting government out of your bedroom, they seem awfully eager to put it in your kitchen instead. But the mindset behind that isn't very hard to understand. For conservatives, morality is the basis of society. For liberals, it's the old Marxist consumption and production treadmill. It's not so much about what you do, but what you buy. Their paramount commandments revolve around economic behavior, and from environmentalism's carbon footprint, to fair trade vs globalism debates, union labor and political boycotts, liberal morality is economic morality. And the usual offender is the middle class.
The sins of the bourgeoisie has been an old obsession for progressives who despise the middle class for leading quiet and ordinary lives, eating food they enjoy, rather than food they are told to enjoy, and being the backbone of a free and productive society. And that marks the most disturbing thing about obesity for liberals, it is a product of a country where everyone has more than enough to eat. A country of the middle class. And for the left such a system is dangerously complacent and prosperous, so much so it might not need them to save it from itself.
Fear of the middle class has been a paralyzing trend for the cultural elites, obsessed with portraying the suburbs as barren and sterile, depicting a middle class culture as deathly conformist and at its most extreme a zombie movies. And its worst sin in the eyes of liberals is complacency, an idea summed up by the bumper sticker slogan of, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention," itself an outraged squeal against people who dare to buy solidly middle class cars and worry about their children's braces, rather than nuclear power, apartheid and Ronald Reagan.
Complacency is the product of comfort, and insuring comfort for large numbers of people means mass production. Liberals of course despite the idea of using mass production to keep people well fed and comfortable. Economic morality dictates that they head off to Whole Foods to spend an entire paycheck on organic food, that is fundamentally no different than the hated middle class big box shoppers pick up in the grocery aisle. You can't get too fat on a diet of arugula, tofu and soy... if only because you wouldn't want to eat very much of it. It's uncomfortable food for people who pay large amounts of money to be uncomfortable, to be outraged, to be activists in the shopping aisle.
Liberalism after all is based on making other people uncomfortable so they can feel the need for reform, for the hope and change express to ride through and overturn everything in its wake. It is rather difficult to sell middle class and middle aged people on revolution, which may be why ObamaCare is polling worst among the middle class and the middle aged. People who are happy with things the way they are, don't want change. They want an absence of change.
"Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look," Shakespeare's Caesar observes. Like most revolutionaries Gaius Cassius Longinus is a decidedly hungry fellow, perhaps because he has been subsisting on a diet of tofu. As one of the lead Liberatores, in quoting Epicurus's maxim, "there is no living pleasantly without living a good and just life", Cassius summed up the wheatgrass juice of the liberal's discontent in the face of people who insist on living undeserved pleasant lives.
And liberals have worked hard to make the lives of the middle class unpleasant. They inflated the price of food. They drove entire industries overseas. They raised taxes and made the modern workplace into a minefield. They have striven with great eagerness, from their summer vacations in the Italian Alps, to make the lives of the Middle Class very insecure and difficult. If Caesar feared the hungry look of the revolutionary, liberals fear the satisfied gaze of the middle class much more.
Conservatives may dread the youthful Id, but liberals attack the mediated ego. For them Churchill's observation, "The man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at forty he has no head" is a dire prediction of growing up. Of becoming comfortably middle aged and middle class. And yes packing on the extra pounds. Being comfortable and driving to work without being particularly outraged by anything. It is why liberals must direct their vision back to Woodstock and the sixties, to societal upheavals and youthful radicalism. It is why Che's sullen glare beams from t-shirts, rather than Marx or Lenin. Unlike them Che managed to die before he turned 40.
Fear of fat has gone side by side with the cultural elites leading the way into constant obsessive fitness, easily tipping over into anorexia. Little wonder then that Jane Fonda moved on from anti-war radicalism to fitness videos. Forever trying to recapture a youth that seemed immortal only in memory, a changing body means the prospect of having to admit that life is moving and grow up emotionally as well. But if modern liberalism ever grew up it would have to come face to face with the futility of its own agenda. It is easier instead to take refuge in an erehwon, an ideological fountain of youth where changing the world seems as simple as shouting for change, rather than having to actually develop a workable plan and coping with setbacks.
When conservatives speak of sin taxes, they mean sin taxes on moral vices. When liberals speak of sin taxes, they mean the vice of middle-classness, in the phrasing of Obama's mentor. The vice of being comfortable. The vice of growing up. It is not American obesity that bothers liberals, but American prosperity, a prosperity they feel is unearned, breeds complacency and serves as a barrier to their revolutionary political agendas. It isn't a fat nation that they fear, but Napoleon's nation of shopkeepers, a free and prosperous nation with general prosperity, without food shortages or rationing. A nation that doesn't want or need them at all.