Explaining his call to ban the sale of supersize sodas at restaurants, theaters and arenas, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg told NBC's Matt Lauer on Friday: "We're not banning you from getting the stuff. ... If you want 32 ounces, the restaurant has to serve it in two glasses. That's not exactly taking away your freedoms. It's not something that the Founding Fathers fought for."
Bloomberg's proposed 16-ounce limit on what he calls "full-sugar drinks" is narrowly targeted. It would not apply to alcoholic drinks, diet drinks, dairy or fruit juices. It would not apply to groceries. People who want to drink more than 16 ounces of a cola would remain free to order two sodas.
That is, it would be a ban that isn't really a ban — a nuisance, a niggling regulation that wouldn't stop obesity but could force theaters to buy smaller cups. "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart pegged the proposed regulation perfectly when he said, "It combines the Draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect."
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley put it another way when he observed that Bloomberg's big-gulp ban would be "facially absurd" — shown to be more absurd by Bloomberg's quickness to announce that it wouldn't necessarily intrude on people's personal beverage choices.
Bloomberg says the ban would serve as a reminder to people that they shouldn't drink too much soda. Like he's Mayor Post-it note.
Would the Founding Fathers wince? "It is certainly true that the Founding Fathers did not fight for oversize sodas," Turley answered. "What they fought for was freedom." That includes the freedom to do things that may not be good for you — and, in moderation, may not be all that bad for you, either.
Bloomberg has been called a "nanny" mayor before. He has ushered through bans not only against smoking but also against artificial trans fat in Gotham eateries. Bloomberg blissfully points to the fact that other cities followed his lead to absolve himself of overreach. Besides, he argues, the world is healthier with less smoke and bad fat.
Turley warns that people with good intentions can do the most damage when it comes to eroding American liberties. "Once you allow the government to determine what are good or bad choices," said Turley, "it becomes increasingly easier for the government to dictate aspects of the lifestyle of citizens."
One decade, busybody lawmakers go after sex in the cinema. In another era, they want to legislate what you can eat in public.
In San Francisco, City Hall went after the Happy Meal. The Richmond City Council has put a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot to enact what could be the nation's first municipal tax on soda and other sugary drinks — a penny per ounce. In the Big Apple, the mayor is targeting the Big Gulp.
Bloomberg actually boasts that his big-drink ban couldn't really change much. He's too modest. He has turned up the spigot of the drip-drip-drip of local laws offered by local politicians who believe they are so enlightened that they owe it to the world to use their power to dictate what people who are not in power cannot do.