The heart of the gulf between political parties and constituencies in the U.S. is wonderfully rendered by this beauty, a conflict between Big Sugar and People Who Care About the Health of Your Children, usually embodied in evil incarnate: the government.
Big Sugar, deeply aware of what happened to Big Tobacco, are cleverly trying to pre-empt any attempts by progressives to raise the taxes on sugary drinks.
Let’s step back for a moment. Several big corporations, represented by associations with anodyne titles, produce a product, sugary drinks (pop and juices) that are scientifically proven to cause major health problems to their consumers, namely, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The health care system will eventually have to provide expensive care for a predictable percentage of these consumers as a result of their consumption of these products. There is no confusion here, no “alternative facts”: the over-consumption of sugary drinks leads to tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, for a large number of people. Big Sugar does not contribute one penny towards the medical care that will eventually be required by this population of consumers. You and I will pay that cost, through our taxes and increased premiums for health insurance. The health care required by an obese 30-year-old with diabetes is part of the real cost of the product.
You and I are subsidizing the sugar industry. They don’t subsidize you. The leaders of this industry pay themselves lavishly and their investors reliably. There is good money to be made in selling poison.
They don’t need our additional help: they already receive massive government handouts aimed at the corn industry which provides the basic ingredients of these products. The government does not provide anything like this subsidy to the growers of broccoli or kale or spinach or carrots or anything else that might be nutritious: there is not nearly as much profit at stake for shareholders and investors in those crops. Vegetable growers need to study the lobbying skills of the Sugary Drinks Industry: the rewards can be monstrous.
So your government not only tolerates the production and sale of products that negatively affect your health: they actually sponsor them. The same way the Trump Administration is now actually subsidizing polluting industries like coal mining and taking away subsidies from clean energy like wind and solar.
So Big Sugar has sponsored several ballot initiatives presented as legislation that will prevent city governments from adding taxes to any groceries purchased within the state. They advertise these initiatives with anodyne phrases about stopping out-of-control governments from taxing poor people and adding to their grocery bills and inhibiting the pursuit of happiness and joy and pleasure. This clever ruse appears to be working in some states. When asked, voters are enthusiastic: stop the tax. When it is explained that the soft drink makers are sponsoring the bill, they are surprised. They didn’t know. The soft drink makers are spending millions on advertising; their opponents have much, much less money.
The thing is, no city is contemplating adding taxes to groceries. Just to soft drinks. Like Philadelphia, which has seen a 40% decrease in consumption since they imposed a tax on sugary drinks, and Berkeley.
Conservatives believe in freedom. Freedom! That means tearing up the wilderness with your ATV, while shooting at aluminum beer cans with an A-15 semi-automatic rifle, drinking your Coca Cola and eating more fries, and being bankrupted when you finally do come down with diabetes or wipe out on your ATV or shoot yourself in the foot because you can’t afford health insurance.
Is this a caricature? Some people deserve a caricature. Like the Texas pastor who disbanded a football team because a couple of black players took a knee during the anthem. Because he believes it disrespects the valiant warriors who gave their lives in Viet Nam because Lyndon Johnson couldn’t bring himself to admit that he had failed. The Texas Pastor was absolutely well-meaning, even kind; he had had the black players overnight in his house. One of them was a good friend of his son’s. He was still ridiculously wrong. Ridiculous because there is nothing inherently disrespectful about taking a knee during the anthem, and, arguably, it is more respectful of the anthem and the flag than anything those attentive white people standing up and looking at their smart phones have in them.
The Democrats, and progressives, think it might be wiser to discourage excessive consumption of sugary drinks, reduce the rate of diabetes and obesity, and encourage people to get more exercise and eat healthier foods. They think it might be wise for everyone to have health insurance.
But I don’t want the government telling me what to do!
Well, it’s pretty hard to argue with that. Nobody likes being told what to do. But government eventually got around to fighting Big Tobacco (though they largely sold out in the end, accepting a lot of money in exchange for not banning it altogether) and most people now accept the legislation that restricted their ability to enjoy tobacco products where-ever and whenever they pleased.
Government still largely restricts–severely– the consumption of marijuana, which, arguably, does less harm than Coca Cola because most people will not use it, and most users will not smoke more than a few joints a week.
The Government doesn’t allow builders to put asbestos in houses anymore. Cars have to meet minimum safety requirements, as do cribs and pajamas. A lot of lives are better because of government “telling you what to do”.
Eventually, enough people might come around to accepting the idea that sugary drinks should cost more to help cover the cost of the damage they do to public health. In the meantime, progressive leaders will continue to be the target of ridicule and scorn by Republicans. The “nanny” state. Extremists. Communists! The “elites”. (I don’t know what you call multi-billionaire stockholders and investors, if not “elites”).
Of course, sometimes it means that corporations get to tell you what to do instead. Like pay 150% interest on “pay-day” loans, or $13,000 for a few stitches, or allow sugary cereals, candy and soft drinks to be marketed directly to your children on Saturday mornings and during Christmas movies. Movies, like “A Christmas Carol”, about a heartless capitalist who inflicts misery on everyone he knows in order to increase his personal wealth.
America now has a serious problem with polarization of the electorate, meaning that the middle ground of acceptable political compromise is no longer available. If I win, you lose, and vice versa. And it’s not the fault of both sides. To blame both sides would be to accept a false equivalency. Just because some Democrats are just as polarizing as most Republicans does not make them the same. Obama clearly offered to work with the Republicans in Congress; the Republicans clearly decided that, even if it hurt the nation, they would not cooperate with anything Obama wanted to do. They placed their own political interest ahead of the country’s.
Two sides finding each other incomprehensible to each other, like those who believe that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the greatest pop song every recorded, and those who, like me, find it absolute rubbish.
I’m not pessimistic. I believe that eventually the chickens will come home to roost and people will begin to realize just what a bad idea Donald Trump was.