The Puritans Win Round One

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I’m sure you all have seen the headline about the soda companies agreeing to stop selling most of their products in schools. This is a good example of companies agreeing “voluntarily” (i.e., when the tide of public opinion is turning against them in such a way as might affect their bottom line) to do the right thing.

Now, you guys know I love William Saletan. He spends most of this article saying not-so-nice things about Bill Clinton (I’m posting it for those Clinton-haters who might enjoy such — I have a love-disappointment relationship with the man myself), but I thought this was a good insight about the tension in our culture between libertinism (is that a word?) and puritanism:

A couple of weeks ago, I speculated that the first stage of the war on fat, which Clinton has adopted as one of his post-presidential missions, would be a rout. In this phase of the war, health advocates have targeted the sale of junk food to kids. I figured soda companies would lose this round, eventually fleeing schools where they currently hold contracts to sell their slush. But I didn’t expect them to surrender—or, in homage to Clinton, look like they’re surrendering—this fast. Score one for the big guy.

The reason I expected the companies to lose this round is that it’s easy to wage moral crusades when the only freedoms in the way are those of children. Americans have long been driven by two deep longings. The first is to be left alone. The second is to tell other people what to do. On most moral issues—abortion, porn, video games, alcohol, tobacco, guns—the easiest way out is to inflict our piety on minors. All the righteous satisfaction, none of the libertarian backlash. Great taste, less filling.

Clinton’s the perfect guy to lead this phase of the war. Remember V-chips? School uniforms? He and his on-and-off political mistress, Dick Morris, knew we wanted our president to affirm community and family values, as long as none of those values messed with our HBO. The war on fat follows the same script. Who’s coughing up the Coke machines? Schools, not offices. Who’s getting squeezed to drop junk food ads? Nickelodeon and Channel One.

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3 Responses to “The Puritans Win Round One”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Thanks for posting that, Sandi. I really don’t know anything about the soda machine issue(?), but I thought the 2nd paragraph and the first part of the 3rd were very insightful as general observations.

  2. Sandi Says:

    My understanding is that the soda industry teamed up with local school districts, giving them a share of the profits from the vending machines in return for access to the schools (and thus the students). The school districts needed the money, so they participated. But a lot of pressure has been brought to bear on the industry to stop this practice, and pursuant to this deal they agreed not to sell sugared sodas anymore in schools — I think the deal is that diet sodas can still be sold in high schools, as can sports drinks. The premise being that consumption of soda contributes to childhood obesity. I’m sure this is true — it really is an amazing number of empty calories if you drink it in large quantities, as a lot of people do.

  3. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Bill Clinton back in the news. And Dick Morris, my favorite Washington Beltway weasel. Just perfect.
    It’s no surprise to find “Slick Willy” involved in this kind of a movement, and Saletan’s article about the motivations of all the different players makes a lot of sense to me. Sandi, thanks for bringing the article up. I may have to start reading this guy. I know he probably slams right wing types too. That’s fine – some of them deserve it – just be willing to work both sides.

    Back during the late ‘90s, in the middle of some Clinton scandal or other, a therapist who specialized in treating adult children of alcoholics came out with a book titled “The Dysfunctional President.” In it, he claimed that Clinton was a textbook case of an untreated adult child of an alcoholic parent – in Clinton’s case, his step-father. He went into several of Clinton’s character flaws, which were coming out in public due to one breaking “Bimbo eruption “ or other, and claimed that they exactly what he would expect based on his experience treating this problem in many patients. I’m not an expert on such things, but he had some interesting points.

    Bill Clinton was the first president in my lifetime who was younger than me – one year. We both grew up in Arkansas in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Bill never really worried me as a president. I always saw him as a consummate politician and self promoter, willing to take almost any position and do whatever it took to win. It seemed to me that getting elected, and thus insuring another term in the public eye was an end in itself, and policies were just a means to that end. His wife, however, I always felt was a different story. I think policies mean something to her and that she really has a political agenda past just getting elected. To me, she comes across as much more of a “True Believer” – the type that worries Juvenal among others.

    BTW, another piece of Clinton that strikes close to home for me:
    My mother got to meet the director of the nursing home where my father spent the last 8 years of his life several times and got to know her a little. Her name was Juanita Broadrick.

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