Healy: The future of America looks like nanny-state, low-salt dystopia 

Midway through Washington, D.C.’s, February Snowpocalypse, with dystopian visions dancing in my head, I rented the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner.” The movie’s noirish picture of Los Angeles in 2019 — dimly lit and rainy, with flying cars, sexy replicants and gruff, chain-smoking detectives — seems less prescient (and less foreboding) the closer we get to the year it depicts.

As the DVD played, one thought kept distracting me: “It’s so cute that they used to think you’d be allowed to smoke in the future.”

From a 2010 vantage point, the 21st century seems to promise an entirely different flavor of nightmare — one in which every individual consumption choice is subject to veto by the collective.

Consider the fact that President Barack Obama’s choice to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, doesn’t seem to recognize any distinction between diseases you catch — like swine flu — and those that involve individual choice, like heart disease. When he served as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s top health official, Frieden instituted mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus and a trans-fat ban, and sent out swarms of officers to harass bar owners for the crime of having ashtrays.

In September, Obama’s Food and Drug Administration banned clove cigarettes (because they taste good, so kids might like them). The agency’s now considering banning menthols. Obamacare makes menu-labeling mandatory for chain restaurants.

And last week, The Washington Post reported that the FDA may “gradually over a period of years” lower the level of sodium allowed in American food “to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet.”

In a 1997 Cato study criticizing trial lawyers’ efforts to hold tobacco companies liable for the choices of individual smokers, my colleague Bob Levy closed by deploying the much-derided “slippery slope” argument.

“What’s next?” he asked, raising the specter of an American nanny state devoted to protecting us from soft drinks, red meat and fast foods. More than a decade later, Levy’s nightmare looks pretty plausible. 

In 1951’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury pictured a future America run by book-burning censors, where a merry band of dissidents meets secretly to recite banned literature. Perhaps in America 2019, rebels will gather in the fields to smoke menthols and share black-market kosher dills.

If so, sign me up for the resistance, because the FDA can have my salty smoked almonds when they peel them from my cold, dead hands. “Wolverines!”

Examiner columnist Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of “The Cult of the Presidency.”

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