NANNY STATE by David Harsanyi


How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children
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Denver Post columnist Harsanyi delivers a podium-thumping screed against micromanaging, moralizing busybodies from both sides of the political divide.

According to the author, Americans are in danger of infantilization by legislation. Health-conscious scaremongers have passed laws eroding the freedom to eat a trans-fat-larded monster burger, smoke a post-prandial cigarette indoors or knock back a few beers. Safety-conscious meddlers have passed regulations on sharp toys, oversized gumballs, competitive dodgeball and buckling up when driving. They’re also responsible for the inane warning labels affixed to just about everything. Morality-conscious prudes are monitoring provocative cheerleading routines and diverting FBI resources to anti-obscenity squads. Harsanyi bolsters his position with a relentless barrage of reports and statistics on legislation great and small, from the national “Click It or Ticket” seatbelt campaign and pet-care mandates in San Francisco to the federal law lowering the legal blood-alcohol level and licensing exams for florists in Louisiana. Harsanyi’s sprightly prose keeps much of this minutia afloat, but he can be awfully glib. On alcohol: “The truth is that alcohol can be as dangerous as other drugs. But primarily, we’ve learned our limitations.” He also reserves a baffling amount of vitriol for seatbelt laws, equated here to being ticketed at home for eating unhealthy foods because “there is no difference in principle when you legislate personal behavior.” His specious arguments allege that “nannies” obfuscate and cherry-pick, while he blithely does the same in rebuttal, trotting out examples of people who lost weight eating at McDonald’s, reports dismissing the dangers of second-hand smoke and statistics on how seatbelts haven’t really saved lives. Sentences here and there hint that picayune pieces of legislation serve as distractions from more egregious matters, but Harsanyi doesn't bother to be any more specific than that.

“Let’s be adults” is a refreshing message, but the text fails to rise above a retread of libertarian talking points.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7679-2432-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Broadway
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2007