By Charlie Mitchell
OXFORD – “Nanny government” is inconsistent with conservatism. Or it was.
Maybe not anymore.
The Mississippi Legislature, including the brash class elected in response to a federal government “gone over to the liberals” is showing a clear penchant for coloring in every picture in the coloring books of school boards as well as city and county officials – leaving the local folks little to nothing to do.
This from a group that as a body has espoused over and over again that “the government that governs least, governs best.”
The most outstanding example is last week’s 50-1 Senate passage of what’s been dubbed the “anti-Bloomberg bill.”
Mississippi is a defiant state. Many times in the past our governors and lawmakers have felt compelled to “send a message” whenever they thought the nation and-or other states was going awry.
In this particular case, the Senate added its ringing endorsement to a bill that had already passed the House 92-26. The legislation was responsive to an initiative led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The initiative, now held up in court, limits portion sizes (particularly soda) that can be sold in Bloomberg’s city. No Big Gulp in the Big Apple, so to speak.
Harrumph, harrumph, said Mississippi lawmakers. Yes, we are the leaders in the state that leads America in obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Yes, we are a state that can’t afford to take care of the often self-induced medical needs of our poor. No, we don’t have any ideas of how to fix that, but we will show you that yours are wrong. We will make a statement. We will pass a law that says no county, city or other political entity may regulate the selling of any food based on nutritional content or portion size. In other words, the Legislature banned bans on bans.
Now let’s be clear: What people choose to eat or drink should be their business as long as they alone bear the consequences of their choices. I don’t want any mayor coming to my house to see if I have put too much mayo or too much bacon on my BLT.
But let’s look at this from the perspective of consistency.
Smoking is as adverse to good health as gluttony. Maybe it’s worse because there’s no secondhand vapor from a double banana split.
But the Legislature has left cities and counties free to make their own rules about when and where people can light up. For decades, mind you, the Legislature has been asked to impose statewide smoking laws. And the response from less-conservative assemblies has been, “That’s better left to the locals.”
So, what gives? We now have the most conservative Legislature in decades and it’s practicing the least conservative principles.
Now it’s kind of silly when Mississippi lawmakers work themselves into one of these lathers. CNN and other networks have reported Mississippi’s Freedom to Eat legislation in their light and breezy segments. They find it comical. But there are other contexts in which Mississippi “sends messages” that are, or should be, regarded a bit more seriously.
One example is Gov. Phil Bryant’s insistence that Mississippi will not expand Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of the poverty level in compliance with the desires of those in Congress who passed Obamacare.
Other governors who took this position, including the governor of Florida, have rethought the situation. Bryant has continued to insist the expansion will bankrupt the state while also pointing out that it will make the nightmare that is the federal debt – of which we all own a share – even worse.
His position may also stem from the state’s notion of maximum independence, of personal responsibility, of insisting that government serves us best by getting out of our way. In practical terms, the proposed expansion of Medicaid has nothing to do with those who could do for themselves, but don’t. The grifters are fully covered. The expansion would be for working families – many of them two-income families – who are a notch below being able to afford private policies.
Is it another step toward a single-payer system? Almost definitely yes. But there’s a saying about waking up and smelling the roses. It’s fine to be defiant. It’s fine to be principled. But it’s impossible to claim those attributes while also being wholly inconsistent.
Anyway you slice it, we have a Legislature that is adamantly opposed to “nanny government” – unless, of course – it gets to be the nanny.
CHARLIE MITCHELL is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.