Government as nursemaid

Jim Fain

April 15, 1991|By Jim Fain

WASHINGTON — IT'S NOT so much Big Brother as Aunt Hortense who's running things these days. The government isn't yet into thought control (though if it keeps meddling in hygiene and deportment, it may get there). Right now it's obsessed instead with how much cholesterol we swallow and how many tons of saccharin it takes to kill a mouse.

As one of millions dutifully chomping high-fiber sawdust hull-deep in skim milk, I begin each day in the deep melancholy the palate transmits to the central nervous system when it's terminally bored. The suspicion intrudes that a few decades of crisp bacon and caloric croissants might be a fair trade for a century of low-cholesterol oat fodder.

How the land of the free became the domain of the nanny is something of a mystery. Fetters are not indigenous to this wide continent. Imagine Davey Crockett drinking Sanka or John Paul Jones ordering a Perrier before dinner.

Seat belts strike me as the essence of government as nursery. Sure, they're a noble thing that saves lives in auto accidents. I wear them whenever I'm around my 5-year-old, not wanting to risk influencing him against them, and, of course, insist that he be belted.

But the notion that it's the government's duty to arrest me if I choose not to chain my 70-year-old carcass to a vehicle's chassis strikes me as intrusive and absurd. Stupidity is a human right so long as it doesn't injure the innocent.

Motorcycle helmet laws are even farther fetched. The human projectiles flung from bike accidents are far more dangerous to bystanders if they're wearing hard hats. It's none of the government's business if a cyclist chooses to soften the impact on whatever he hits by going bareheaded. He places only himself at risk.

I kicked smoking for good some years ago and am thankful for it. It's a messy habit, confers no real pleasure and is a proven killer. But my sympathy is entirely with the smokers who now have to endure total ostracism and public calumny. Non-smokers are entitled to protection against passive smoking, which research insists kills a surprising number of people. Aside from that, smoking is a personal, not a public, issue. There should be sealed places where those inclined can inhale as much poison as they pine for.

Pregnancy is a more complex subject because it involves the lives and health of vulnerable innocents. Every effort should be made to protect the unborn, but vigilantism is not the method of choice.

The waiters who heckled the overdue woman who had broken down and ordered a daiquiri roused no cheers from me. Some things are among people, their doctors and God, not subject to a plebiscite of holiers-than-thou.

Put abortion and euthanasia on that list, along with homosexuality, though it's not entitled to steal the word, "gay."

It's weird, when you think about it, that conservatives, who're supposed to love freedom (they seem to define it exclusively as the right to make money and possess handguns), should be the greatest bedroom peeping toms. They nosily espouse everything from urine testing to preserving brain-dead bodies with irrigation tubes.

Instead of a thin-lipped schoolmarm, what this country needs is a government determined to keep quirkiness alive, even if we have to declare it a historical monument.

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