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Notes on Nanny Bloomberg

From the Scrapbook

Jun 11, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 37 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines last week with his plan to prohibit the sale of sugary drinks in New York City in any size larger than 16 ounces. “Public health officials,” the mayor said, “are wringing their hands” over rising rates of obesity. But “New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something. I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

Mayor Bloomberg

Thomas Fluharty

The Scrapbook, for its part, is all about the handwringing. And two things about this story have us wringing ours: (1) This is a preview of the future under Obamacare. Once you socialize health care costs, you license the Michael Bloombergs of the world, at every level of government, to busy themselves intruding on the minutiae of what we used to quaintly call our private lives. After all, your choice of what to eat and drink, and whether and how to exercise, may burden taxpayers with the bill for managing your adult-onset diabetes. When the government takes over the health care sector, the personal truly is the political. 

(2) Government nannies are inept and malevolent. Excessive sugar intake is ill-advised. But note the details of Bloomberg’s intervention. Plus-size soft drinks, verboten. Fruit juice, venti lattes, and cappuccinos loaded with caramel and whipped cream? Drink up! They’re exempt from the mayor’s edict. The Scrapbook defies anyone to distinguish the caloric effects of sugar delivered by 7-Eleven in a Big Gulp from that delivered by Starbucks in a white paper cup. Looks like Nanny Bloomberg is sternly superintending the beverages of the teeming masses while carving out an exemption for the sugary drinks favored by his own upper-crust cheering section.

Prominent among the latter would normally be the editors at the New York Times, who, besides being ideologically sympathetic to the mayor, are not-so-secretly hoping he’ll rescue their perks and pensions by buying the paper from the struggling Sulz-berger dynasty. However, even the Times worried in an editorial about “too much nannying” in this case. On the other hand, alongside the Times’s story on the mayor’s anti-soda jihad was this sidebar: “What Else Should the Mayor Ban? With super-size soft drinks facing prohibition, we seek your suggestions for other vices the Bloomberg Administration should outlaw.” We think this is meant to be lighthearted, but we’re not laughing.

Misunderestimating Herbert Hoover

The Scrapbook will go to great lengths to avoid being pedantic, but sometimes we are so astonished by the ignorance—the sheer bricks-for-brains philistinism—of certain journalistic celebrities that we feel constrained to set the historical record straight. 

We are thinking, among other instances, of the Washington Post’s resident boy genius Ezra Klein, who once explained that many Americans misunderstand the U.S. Constitution since “the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago.” (That is, before 1912!) And of a similarly eye-popping observation we ran across last week by
Margaret Carlson, who these days writes for Bloomberg.com. 

Carlson customarily tends to substitute a certain snarkiness of tone for actual knowledge—which, we suppose, entertains her readers. But in a tortured attempt to make the case that Mitt Romney, as a onetime businessman, is disqualified by experience for the presidency, she said the following: 

The only successful candidate to run as a businessman—it was all he had—was Herbert Hoover. Look where that got us.

Now, The Scrapbook does not wish to enter into an extended discussion of the qualities and defects of the Hoover administration, or the virtues of Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corp. versus New Deal pump-priming, and so on. And of course, as a loyal Democrat, Carlson is entitled to express her opinion—“Look where that got us”—about Herbert Hoover’s place in history. But to suggest that Hoover ran “as a businessman” for the White House in 1928, and that his (spectacularly successful) commercial background “was all he had,” is not only unfair but profoundly and self-evidently wrong. 

Herbert Hoover was, indeed, a businessman: He parlayed his training as a mining engineer (and member of Stanford’s first graduating class) into a storied career as a geologist, miner, and investor in the American West, in Australia, in China—where he was a hero of the resistance to the Boxer Rebellion—and in Europe before the outbreak of World War I.

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