HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas

Target Big Bad Government

In language befitting gun-toting God-fearing rebels, the Tea Partiers have compiled a “hit list” of politicians in thrall to Big Government. The banners are unfurled; the talk-show hosts are rantimg. One poll shows 80% of Americans loathe Big Bad Government. Expect political heads to roll come November.

All this Wild West rhetoric, however, is misguided. The Tea-Partiers have forgotten the statistical principle of “regression towards the mean.” In a variable sequence, a measurement that initially is extreme will over time move towards the mean. The pull of the center happens in politics too. Most candidates, however fiery their rhetoric, will gravitate towards the center once in office. That is why die-hard conservatives end up looking moderate. Richard Nixon went to China; George Bush expanded Medicare. Even liberals, once elected, stray from left-field. President Obama signed a decidedly unradical health reform bill that has disappointed liberal groups.

This season, in rallies throughout the nation, the Tea-partiers are going local, targeting lots of officials.

But instead of targeting people, who may end up voting much as their predecessors did, the Tea Partiers should point their muskets at programs. For decades, government has sunk its tentacles deep into the private sector, deeper than the Founding Fathers would have foreseen. To retract those tentacles, we need to kill programs.

Let the Tea-partiers hone in on these “health” hits.

• Restaurant inspectors

Every state sends forth inspectors to scrutinize restaurants. The inspectors dictate food storage, preparation, and cleanliness Let a few patrons get food poisoning, and states can shut the business down.

Did our Founding Fathers want Government to tell restaurants how many minutes they should scramble eggs, how hot they should set the water temperature, how spotlessly they should clean the counters? Did Alexander Hamilton worry about rodents in diners? To shrink government, we can purge these watchdogs from the public payroll.

• Labor force protections

The nanny state threatens personal liberty. If an entrepreneur wants to hire children to work after school, and their parents agree, why should government butt in? If a worker is willing to accept less than a state-set minimum wage, why does the government care? Many people would rather work for low wages than not work. All those government-enforced perks, like COBRA and OSHA mandates, cost money. Free Americans should be free to run their businesses without Uncle Sam breathing down their backs. In 1776, did Uncle Sam tell Thomas Jefferson how to run his plantation?

• Regulating private health insurance

Thank goodness we have private health insurance. The government has not forced all of us into a Medicare-type system. Be thankful that the for-profit insurers — the companies that gave us pre-existing condition clauses, caps, and hefty deductibles — still cover a swathe of us.

But states are sinking their tentacles into these insurers — trying to dictate premiums. Look at Maine. Its Insurance Commissioner took insurers to court, seeking to block increases in premiums and, by extension, increases in profits. This assault on the private sector is unpatriotically un-American.

• Seat belts

The government tells you what to wear in the privacy of your car! John Adams would weep. Getting killed (as well as killing someone else) is an inalienable American right.

Besides, police are wasting time catching people who don’t buckle up, instead of catching criminals. (Of course, when we let law-abiding Americans tote their own guns, we will have fewer criminals running amok.)

• Nursing home oversight

Those intrusive government inspectors are at it again, with their laundry list of rules for employees, for patient care, for facilities’ cleanliness. Many nursing homes are private sector businesses, established to make a profit. Others are nonprofit, non-governmental organizations, run by private citizens. Residents can leave if they don’t like the service. Yet Big Bad Government meddles. The Constitution doesn’t mention this kind of meddling.

• Selling cigarettes to minors

Supermarkets, gas stations, 24-hour “convenience stores” — all stock cigarettes. Stores can legally sell them — unless the buyer is under age 21. States, acting in loco parentis, force owners to ask for identification from many customers (in this age of super cosmetics, a lot of people look pretty youthful). An owner who sells a legal product to a 19-year old risks a fine. Let’s ax that rule. At the same time, let’s eliminate all those “no-smoking” edicts. In Revolutionary times, children smoked. Puff, baby, puff.

With a few strokes of a pen, right-thinking legislators and governors can hit these targets. We’ll shrink government; we’ll restore freedom; we’ll reduce taxes. Hooray!

The question for Tea Partiers: Do you really want to?

Joan Retsinas is a sociologist who writes about health care in Providence, R.I. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2010

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