Editor's Note: This column is reprinted with permission of the Washington Examiner. Click here to read it at that site.
It's a high-pressure job, the presidency. Think about how badly the bin Laden raid could have gone. The worst case scenario—Navy SEALs trapped in a firefight with Pakistani forces—could have made Black Hawk Down look like a cakewalk.
Yet the night after he gave the "go" order, President Obama hit the White House Correspondents' Dinner and had to grin his way through canned laugh lines working over "the Donald."
Stressful! You couldn't blame the guy if he wanted to take the edge off with a smoke. Alas, he quit a year ago. It was "a personal challenge for him," the first lady explained recently, and she never "poked and prodded."
Of course not. It's obnoxious to hector your loved ones. "Poking and prodding" is what good government does to perfect strangers. And that's what the Obama administration has been doing, with unusual zeal, for the past 2 1/2 years.
You're not a real president until you fight a metaphorical "war" on a social problem. So, to LBJ's "War on Poverty" and Reagan's "War on Drugs," add Obama's "War on Fun." Like the "War on Terror," it's being fought on many fronts:
Smoking: Last fall, the killjoy crusaders at Obama's Food and Drug Administration released proposed "graphic warning labels" on cigarettes, including "one showing a toe tag on a corpse" and another where "a mother blows smoke on her baby." In December, a federal court rebuffed the administration's plan to squelch "e-cigarettes," which allow smokers to ingest nicotine vapor without carcinogens or secondhand smoke. But the president's lifestyle cops stand ready to regulate menthols, because, like clove cigarettes (banned in 2009), they taste good, so people might like them.
Alcohol: Similar logic drove the FDA's November ban on caffeinated malt liquors. Capitalizing on a minor moral panic over "Four Loko," which packs less punch than the ever-popular Red Bull and vodka, the agency threatened four companies with "seizure of the products" on the dubious grounds that caffeine becomes an "unsafe food additive" when combined with alcohol.
Poker: Last month, the Department of Justice shut down five major online poker sites, seizing their domain names, issuing arrest warrants for executives and seeking billions of dollars in asset forfeiture. One defendant faces jail time of up to 65 years for helping people play cards over the Internet.
Food: A year ago, Obama's FDA announced its plan to "adjust the American palate to a less salty diet," ratcheting down the amount of sodium allowed in processed foods. It's "a 10-year program," an agency source said, designed to change "embedded tastes in a whole generation of people." But even "real food" aficionados who shun Cheetos aren't safe from the reformers' zeal. On April 20, FDA agents and federal marshals carried out a 5 a.m. raid on an Amish farm in Pennsylvania, the culmination of a yearlong sting operation aimed at wiping out the scourge of unpasteurized milk. "It is the FDA's position that raw milk should never be consumed," an agency spokeswoman insisted.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that "of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." Rulers who just want to exploit us may relax once their greed's sated.
But "those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience," Lewis said.
On the whole, I prefer House Speaker John Boehner's attitude. When Fox News' Chris Wallace asked the Ohio Republican, "Why don't you stop smoking?" Boehner replied, "It's a legal product. I choose to smoke. Leave me alone."
Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power (Cato 2008). He is a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared. Click here to read it at that site. This column previously appeared at Reason.com.