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Our Views: A gulp of freedom
New Yorks overreach to limit soda size another case of trading liberty for control
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson

Dr. John Pemberton could never have imagined it coming to this.

Working in his Atlanta pharmacy in 1886, the inventor of Coca-Cola surely could never have foreseen that, nearly 150 years later, the question of how big a cup of soda could be sold to the general public would be fodder for the courts.

Yet that’s exactly the case, as the courtroom war over whether the city of New York can ban the size of sugary drinks wages on.

Last week a justice of the New York Supreme Court said the proposal — which would prohibit restaurants, theaters and similar businesses, including New York’s famous food carts, from selling sugary drinks of more than 16 ounces — wasn’t legal. The city plans to appeal, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to push a social agenda meant to improve the overall health of city residents.

The case is expected to be heard in appeals court in June.

In Mississippi, meanwhile, lawmakers have approved what they called an “anti-Bloomberg” bill, making it illegal for local governments to establish bans on the size of portions served at the state’s eateries, and going a step further to prohibit local requirements for restaurants to post calorie counts for their menu offerings.

Somewhere, the learned and admired men upon whose intellectual foresight the nation was built are turning over in their graves.

This is government, 21st century style.

Frankly, it really doesn’t make a bit of difference to most Georgians whether New Yorkers are allowed to purchase a soft drink the size of a small washtub, but it should. This isn’t a debate over sugar, calories and caffeine, but rather of government power, personal responsibility and individual liberty.

That such a debate even exists serves as incontrovertible proof that in the never ending search for safety and security we lost our way as a nation of fiercely independent and resourceful people.

Think of the patriots who declared independence from Britain and fought the American Revolution, the brave pioneers who settled the nation’s western territories, the soldiers in blue and gray of the Civil War, the families who survived the Depression, the generation that defeated Hitler. Do you think any of those could ever have conceived of the need to depend on the government for nutritional direction?

Sadly, most Americans can’t be concerned with thoughts of overreaching governments and personal liberties. To do so might take away from the thrill of watching “American Idol” or the excitement of liking someone on Facebook.

Even in ruling against the soft drink ban the New York Supreme Court justice didn’t step forward and say it was a misguided attempt by a government reaching too far into the lives of the governed. The ban was found to be illegal based on technical issues over whether the health board appointed by the mayor had the right to enact such a law, or whether it had to be an initiative of the city council.

We wish the judge had simply said: “That’s not the role of government. Next case.”

But the thing is no one seems interested in talking about the role of government anymore. Come election time, we are inundated with talk of liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, with far too little debate focuses on what governments should and shouldn’t do.

That’s unfortunate, because if we keep going down the path we’re on, the principals of freedom, liberty and individual responsibility which have served as the backbone of this nation since its birth on the battlefield of the Revolutionary War will have been sacrificed at the altar of governmental excess.

The debate over whether a city government should decree what size soft drinks can be bought and sold is so ludicrous as to defy intelligent discussion, and yet the issue looms real because we as a people refuse to stand up and say, “Enough! No more!”

We once were a proud people for whom “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” were ideals worth fighting to protect. Now we look to the government to control our diets because we’re too lacking in self control to do it for ourselves.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

As inappropriate as it might seem to interject such noble words into such a ridiculous issue, it’s impossible not to realize that an excessive overreaching of government to control individual rights is, indeed, a tyrant’s law that violates the rights of the individual.

If the thinking that resulted in New York’s soft drink ban were limited to that northern city, there might be no cause for concern. But that’s not the case. Across the country, at every level of government, political leaders are more than willing to assume powers afforded them by a complacent electorate, as increasing numbers of Americans become more concerned with what their government can do for them than what they can do for themselves.

Blissful in ignorance bolstered by apathy, most are more than willing to have a Coke and a smile, and see no problem at all with letting someone else tell them how big either one should be.

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