The Magazine

The Politics of Fat

A hefty problem for the left.

Jan 5, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 16 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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This is the point in the argument where the city council of Binghamton jumps in. Actually, they perked up at the mention of the word "victims." Victims are citizens who have gone limp. They require the paternal care and protection of public officials. Researchers from Yale (no less) "found that obese adults were 37 times more likely"--not 36 times more likely, and not 38 either--"to report weight-based employment discrimination compared to 'normal' weight adults." Nonprogressives from places other than Binghamton might find this statistic less than eye-popping. Who else but fat people are going to suffer discrimination against fat people? But the very idea of such unregulated bigotry moved the city council to act. Specifically, it outlawed what has elsewhere been called weightism: "weight-based" discrimination in housing, employment, education, and public accommodation. The bill's sponsor explained the law by saying, "It is the human thing to do."

Well, it's certainly the progressive thing to do. Those same Yale researchers fleshed out the reasoning, if you'll forgive the expression. "Weight bias exists," they explained, because weightist bigots believe that "the only reason people fail to lose weight is because of [they're not teaching grammar at Yale these days] poor self-discipline or a lack of willpower." This wrongheaded notion "blames the victim rather than addressing environmental conditions that cause obesity."

The city council takes care of the first part of this incorrect thinking. Its new law reinforces the view that obesity, like sex or race, is an unchangeable condition deserving civil rights protection. The governor aims for the second part, by making the initial move toward taxing those "environmental conditions" out of existence; he will, in other words, directly attack the TFE and, if all goes well, cure the obesity epidemic.

The governor and the Binghamton city council acted independently, of course, but together they've concocted a perfectly progressive two-pronged approach, a one-two punch, a regulatory pincer movement designed to eliminate, all at once and simultaneously, not only discrimination against the obese but also the obese themselves.

One problem does suggest itself. If the government is to declare our hefty brothers and sisters a protected class, if they are to become a legal caste that cannot be singled out because of their weight, how can the government continue to go after their favorite foods? A "fat tax" on sugary soda pop punishes fat people by making the foods they love more expensive--merely because fat people love them. One tactic violates the other. It's only a matter of time before fat people will be able to sue the state of New York on grounds of discrimination for imposing a fat tax. And then where will we be?

I don't want to give anybody any ideas, but I have noticed an alarming number of dangerously skinny people drinking diet soda. It's like an -epidemic.

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Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.