COLUMBIA — One of these days, I hope to see the American people rise up from their lethargic "silent majority" pose to emulate King Henry II in his reference to Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury: "Can no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"
But in lieu of "meddlesome priest," they will substitute "meddlesome, nonelected watchdog groups, activists, trial lawyers, busybodies and other assorted pests — all seeking more government intervention in everyday choices.
The most recent and perhaps the silliest is the campaign organized by Corporate Accountability International, a nonprofit watchdog that has enlisted more than 550 health care professionals and organizations to force McDonald's to retire Ronald McDonald. Apparently, some self-appointed genius has determined that Ronald is the icon of the junk food industry and, as such, the primary culprit in today's obesity epidemic.
According to the Davie Brown Index, which was compiled by Omnicom Group's Marketing Arm, Ronald McDonald is the fourth-most readily recognized advertising figure. He represents the Ronald McDonald House, the "home away from home" that enables families to remain close to hospitalized children at little or no cost. Thus, the campaign against poor Ronald is reminiscent of Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge and his "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses" response to needy families.
From the Center for Science in the Public Interest's 1994 campaign to demonize movie theater popcorn to suggesting government control of restaurant food portions to removing toys from Happy Meals to the trashing of poor Ronald, we are rapidly moving from the ridiculous to the idiotic. Let's face facts: Neither advertising nor food makes one fat. Eating too much and moving too little are the culprits, and both are matters of personal responsibility.
The same meddling cabals that made pariahs of smokers have directed their well-financed and insidious campaigns at fast foods, targeting Ronald and the golden arches as the symbols of obesity. Attacking the industry with the same fear tactics employed against tobacco interests, these movements appeal to the well-meaning and ill-informed, as well as to those who find no fault with state regulation of individual behavior.
To its credit, McDonald's rejected deep-sixing the smiling clown at its annual meeting, stating Ronald would stay the course. CEO Jim Skinner opined that this issue was about choice and people's individual rights.
This passion to regulate virtually every aspect of society does not end at tobacco and diet/nutrition but also extends to public health, firearms, recreation, education, entertainment and child rearing. For example, voters in a Corporate Accountability International poll named Coca-Cola as a culprit causing future scarcity of potable water in its Corporate Hall of Shame '09. Voters in 2008 named Monsanto as a mass producer of cancer-causing chemicals and Blackwater Worldwide, now known as Xe Services, for killing unarmed Iraqis and Halliburton as leading war profiteer as some of the worst corporations.
Public health is a legitimate concern of government as control of and protection from communicable diseases, along with threats of chemical and biological attacks, are functions within the scope of the common good. And, while smoking and poor nutrition are health hazards, they must remain areas of personal decision and responsibility. Programs to educate perceived abusers are welcome; however, state regulation of consumption is but a preemption of individual and parental responsibility.
While some may consider this an overreaction, Edmund Burke's "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing" is germane. I don't allege the campaigns against tobacco, fast foods, sugary vending machine snacks, etc., are evil, but standing by and ignoring that government or unelected bureaucrats are making decisions that were once your responsibility is inherently dangerous.
Once that camel's nose is under the tent, it becomes progressively simpler for government and bureaucrats to expropriate citizens' rights or for individuals to voluntarily relinquish obligations and decisions heretofore the prerogative of the individual. Regardless of how benign or well-intentioned the authority, do we really wish to be told where we may locate our businesses or our homes, the size of our autos, what we may eat and drink, what doctors we may see, ad infinitum?
I might add, there are also those in positions of authority who would regulate behavior, control growth and redistribute the wealth through taxation. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," in a speech by abolitionist Wendell Phillips in 1852 before the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society, is no less relevant 150 years later.
With tactics reminiscent of the Temperance movement, activists have done in Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man. Since they are comfortable demonizing Ronald McDonald, then Colonel Sanders, Keebler Elves, Cap'n Crunch and Santa Claus should watch their backs!
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.