A Further Perspective

The Quirks of the Nanny State

What it considers harmless.

By 7.30.14

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Under the nanny state, what qualifies as a risk is often perplexing. Its champions usually see risks everywhere, from climate change to oversized sugary drinks to cupcake parties in public school classrooms. They press for more and more safety and healthy regulations in every area of life, demanding that society err on the side of caution. But when topics such as over-the-counter abortifacients and drug legalization come up, proponents of the nanny state suddenly change their tune. Risks are downplayed and freedom is extolled.

The New York Times, which normally favors hyperactive legislation and regulations for imaginary risks, has adopted a dismissive attitude about the real risks of marijuana use. Its editorial board has pronounced marijuana a “substance far less dangerous than alcohol” and declared that pot “addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco.” It continued, “Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the ‘Reefer Madness’ images of murder, rape and suicide.”

The paper has finally found a pollutant it can cheer. After years of denouncing Big Tobacco, it has no qualms about the mainstreaming of marijuana. It can at once inveigh against the perils of “secondhand smoke” and cast marijuana use as harmless.

If the Nanny State Left likes a particular activity, it has no problem overlooking science that frowns upon that activity. On matters such as global warming, it brooks no scientific dissent. But it will use “contested” science to take the view that pot use is benign. It will hold hearings on the dangers of dietary supplements and hector someone like Doctor Oz about dubious advice while shutting down any debate about the dangers of over-the-counter abortifacients for teens. Eric Shaff, chair of the National Abortion Federation, famously said that RU-486 is less dangerous than aspirin.

Under Obama, in this supposedly kid-conscious age, 15-year-olds can pick up abortion-inducing drugs at their local CVS. Obama has said that he is “comfortable” with this arrangement, citing “sold scientific evidence” for it, though before his reelection he had worried about the prospect of kids picking up such consequential and dangerous drugs “alongside bubble gum or batteries.”

For the Nanny State Left, abortion is safe and pregnancy is risky. Fertility is treated as a disease requiring “preventive” drugs and pregnancy is seen as a disability. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now treats conditions associated with pregnancy as impairments under the Americans with Disabilities Act:

On a straight 3-2 party-line vote July 14, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission voted new “enforcement guidance” rules, which define pregnancy as a workplace disability.… Even after the 2008 amendments, the ADA at no point defines pregnancy as a “disability.” To end-run this fact, the agency discovers pregnancy's “impairments.” The EEOC’s guidelines argue, “Although pregnancy itself is not a disability, impairments related to pregnancy can be disabilities if they substantially limit one or more major life activities.” Morning sickness, for example, would become a qualifying impairment under the ADA.

The Nanny State Left calls natural conditions unhealthy and unnatural ones healthy. Deliberately sterilizing a functioning part of the body counts as “health care” under Obama while pregnancy causes congresswomen like Gwen Moore to say, “The National Institute of Health has said that it is a danger to women’s health and safety of their families, that for 30 years, to be exposed to the prospects of pregnancy.”

It is not surprising that marijuana use now assumes its place as another risk-free practice under the ideological quirks of the Nanny State. The counterculture has become the culture and the Left isn’t going to let science or common sense impede its advance. The New York Times thinks it is funny to morph the stars of the American flag into marijuana leaves and leave people with the impression that drug use is no more serious than drinking a beer. It has even dropped its customary insistence on national uniform standards in favor of state experimentation with novel drug laws. On most matters they don’t want 50 laboratories of democracy, but on marijuana use they are fine with it, provided that they are drug labs.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.