Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current, events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
Looking back to the 1980s, we found public health official Howard Bashford chatting with motorcyclist Zip Veetwin:
Howard: Zip, you have to wear a helmet when you’re riding your ‘cycle. (Which the official pronounces “sickle.”)
Zip: I ain’t wearin’ no helmet. I like the feel of the wind in my hair.
Howard: But, Zip, if you have a wreck, you could suffer a serious head injury. You know, brain trauma.
Zip: Trauma, your mama! I’m not wearin’ a helmet.
Howard: I’m sorry, Zip. You could be rendered vegetative and become a ward of the state. You’d be a cost to society, so you have to wear the helmet.
Zip: Gollee! I’ll show you. I’ll get a something that looks like a World War II German helmet!
Howard: As long as you wear something – to protect society.
We move to the 1990s. Howard, his hair now gray at the temples, talks to restaurateur/bar owner “Smokey” Hostel.
Howard: You can’t allow tobacco smoking in here, Smokey. Second-hand smoke might make some of your patrons – not to mention the help – ill.
Smokey: That’s plain nuts. My customers all smoke. They like to light up after a meal. Settles their stomachs, don’t you know.
Howard: Sorry, Smokey. Tobacco is bad for people’s health, and when they get sick, a lot of them can’t pay for their care and they become, in effect, wards of the state. The social cost is just too much.
Smokey: But if people don’t want smoke, they can go to Billy Kenmore’s place, just down the street. He doesn’t allow smoking, so people have a choice – smoke, or no smoke. The marketplace is working.
Howard: No way we can allow that. When people make bad health choices, we all pay.
Now it’s early in the 21st century. Howard is the elder statesman of the health lobby. Again, he is at Smokey’s restaurant/bar.
Howard (to the maitre d’): Is Smokey here?
Maitre d’: No. Smokey died a couple of years ago. Lung cancer.
Howard: I might have known. Anyway, I see you have salt shakers on the tables. Those have to go.
Maitre d’: You’re joking!
Howard: I’m not kidding. They have to go, and you have to limit the size of your soft drinks. People might get arteriosclerosis – and they’ll become obese.
Maitre d’: What about freedom of choice?
Howard: Freedom, schmeedom. We have national health care now, so when people get sick from too much salt or too much sugar and fat, it’s a burden on everybody.
Maitre d’: It’s like we now belong to the state.
Howard: Nonsense! We’re all about freedom – freedom from you costing the people health-care dollars.
We move to 2016. (An optimist might say 2020.) Howard has passed away, and his place as the “tip of the spear” for public health has been assumed by Jill Poke, White House “common good czar.” She speaks earnestly with the last GOP senator.
Poke: Thank you for coming to the White House to discuss the problem of mental illness. As you know, it has been a hot topic ever since the school shootings of 2012.
The senator: Quite so.
Poke: As I’m sure you agree, because mental illness is covered under the Affordable Care Act, we must do all we can to alleviate the problem. That way we can keep it from busting the health-care budget.
The senator: I suppose so.
Poke: That’s why prevention is so important, why we must step in whenever we see a citizen start to go astray, so to speak.
The senator: Step in?
Poke: Yes. To protect the public treasury, we must intervene when people start to express bad thoughts. That way, we can save money in the long run.
The senator: Bad thoughts?
Poke: Yes. You, for example, continue to declare that the First Amendment covers criticism of our dear leader. This is a bad thought, and we think you – and the public – would benefit if we kept you from sliding into a true psychosis.
The senator: Me? What are you …? Hey! (He struggles as two large men enter and seize him by the arms.)
Poke: It’s for your own good – and society’s. Remember, your health is the state’s concern, so you have to shape up. But don’t worry. You’re going to love re-education camp!
The moral: When your health becomes the state’s concern, your body and mind become state property, and you can kiss liberty good bye.
Actually, I predicted this sort of thing way back when the helmet law was first proposed in California. Will it go as far as Common Good Czar Jill Poke? Time will tell.
A final word: For years, leftists have been attacking the Constitution, calling the document inadequate to deal with modern realities. It’s no accident that CBS chose to move it into a more public arena by broadcasting a commentary by Louis Michael Seidman, a Georgetown University law professor.
After declaring that “constitutional obedience has a pernicious impact on our political culture,” this sophist concluded, “If we are to take back our own country, we have to start making decisions for ourselves, and stop deferring to an ancient and outdated document.”
He isn’t the first, nor will he be the last to think he is smarter than the framers. He’s wrong, of course, but as the mavens of the media become more and more obtuse, we can expect more and louder calls to reject not only the Constitution, but also the principle of liberty that are its foundation.