She gazes out at us from the newspaper page, a seraphic smile on her face. Her pose is that of Goya’s “The Naked Maja,” only she has clothes on and she weighs 270 pounds. She is 19 years old, her name is Jazlyn Bradley and she is a plaintiff. Specifically, she, along with 14-year-old, 170-pound Ashley Pelman, is suing the devil, McDonald’s. You see, the devil made her do it — get fat, that is.
The Misses Bradley and Pelman are the cat’s paws of one John Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. Mr. Banzhaf, the driving force behind the spate of lawsuits against tobacco companies, has been itching to get a fast-food case on a court calendar and he has finally succeeded.
Banzhaf has deftly combined the news from the U.S. Surgeon General that too many Americans are carrying around too much fat with the obsession spawned by some Yuppies of the '70s that they should live in a risk-free society. That, in turn, was a successor to the back-to-the-womb movement popular with some '60s college students (no more grades! no competition!).
All of this fits nicely with that liberal staple: no one is responsible for his or her choices and actions; everyone is a victim. Banzhaf and the trial lawyers’ fraternity have done nicely by it.
Juries are awarding billions to two-pack-a-day smokers who claim they had no idea cigarettes might cause lung cancer. And, there was the famous woman who won a suit against McDonald’s for serving her coffee which she spilled on herself, not realizing it would be hot.
Seraphic Jazlyn and her fellow plaintiff might get enough money out of the lawsuit to enroll in Weight Watchers. If they win, however, it will be the ever-angelic — and very rich — trail lawyers who try the case who will get the rest of the money.
Meanwhile, Mr. Banzhaf, determined to make choices for us in all that we consume, is planning campaigns against milk and pork. Do you suppose he is angling for a job in the next trial lawyer-friendly administration, say, Secretary of the Department of National Nannies?
If so, he will welcome a new program being promoted in the Department of Defense by none other than former Admiral John Poindexter, the erstwhile presidential National Security Adviser whose involvement in the arms-for-hostages scheme with Iran in the '80s nearly spiked the Reagan Administration. He was convicted of lying to Congress about the scheme (the verdict was later overturned on a technicality). Undaunted, the admiral is back, now at DoD promoting something named Total Information Awareness (TIA). Briefly, TIA would create a government database of virtually every transaction everyone in the United States makes: telephone calls; bank deposits, withdrawals and loans; e-mail messages; credit/debit card purchases and medical records.
The stated purpose of TIA is to spot patterns by suspicious persons who are under surveillance as potential terrorists. So far, so good, but will it stop there? That, at least, is the worry raised by “civil libertarians.” They needn’t worry that the Bush Administration will step beyond the stated bounds, but what if it were to be succeeded by an administration friendly toward Professor Banzhaf’s National Nanny concept? It might go like this:
(Knock on the door; Mrs. Smith opens it)
MAN: Mrs. Smith? Mrs. John Smith?
MRS. SMITH: Yes, that’s me.
MAN: I’m from the Department of Healthy Life Styles. We find that you had a meal at McDonald’s last Friday and charged it to your credit card. That’s your ninth meal there this year. I must warn you that if you eat more than one more meal there this year you will be in violation of the anti-fat regulations and will be subject to a fine.
MRS. SMITH: By whose authority?
MAN: Congress passed the Healthy Life Styles Act, President Gore signed it and Secretary Banzhaf is in charge of writing the regulations to enforce it. We have an airtight case.