Leonard Pitts: Freedom to make fatheaded decisions

  • Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 12:06 a.m.
Leonard Pitts
Leonard Pitts

Perhaps you remember when Dr. Doom conquered the world.

Or perhaps you don’t. Sadly enough, even in this day and age, not everyone is comic book literate.


Suffice it to say, then, that back in the ’80s, Marvel Comics published a graphic novel in which the villainous Victor von Doom achieved his dearest goal: to rule the world. And he made it a better place, too. Famine ended, the stock market climbed, crime fell, occupying armies withdrew, racial oppression vanished. Doom turned the planet into a paradise and the only cost of his beneficence was free will. He created a device that took away the ability of human beings to decide for themselves.

When the Avengers defeated him, the world returned to rack and ruin as humanity reasserted its right to be as bleeped up as it wanted to be. The Avenger Hawkeye wondered aloud if they had done the right thing. Whereupon Captain America admonished him, “The world isn’t perfect. ... But people are free to make their own choices — and that’s the way it should be.”

He could have been talking to Michael Bloomberg.

The emperor — beg pardon, the mayor — of New York City was defeated Monday, not by the Avengers, but by a State Supreme Court judge, Milton Tingling, who struck down Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of extra large, non-diet soft drinks. Justice Tingling, though not known to possess superpowers, nevertheless zapped the forces of overreach. “Arbitrary and capricious,” he called the restrictions, which would have taken effect Tuesday.

But Bloomberg’s ban was more than that. It was the very definition of liberalism run amok, a good idea (people should limit their intake of sugary soft drinks) driven headlong into the weeds of overkill, overregulation and basic preposterousness. The resemblance to conservative extremism and its resort to unwieldy laws to govern behaviors it disapproves (did someone say transvaginal ultrasound?), is doubtless unintended, but no less real even so.

Apparently, if you send two people venturing out, one to the extreme left, and the other to the extreme right, of our political spectrum, they will end up face to face. Because the distinguishing characteristic of extreme liberalism or extreme conservatism is the extremism; itself, the fact that some people just don’t know when to quit.

Obviously, the state is sometimes obliged to impose restrictions. One shouldn’t be allowed to sell Camels to kindergarteners. Or do 90 on a residential street. Or discriminate by race, creed, gender or sexual orientation.

But there is a difference between those restrictions the state imposes to protect the health, welfare and property of those around us from us or to defend the vulnerable from exploitation — and those the state imposes to regulate behavior that is simply unwise. The latter reflects a lack of faith in the wisdom of people, their ability, when properly informed, to make the right choice.

Yes, obesity is a crisis impacting our health, our economy and even, some have argued, our national security. We are a lard butt nation waddling toward demise. Got it.

Yet, if Americans kicked their cigarette addiction by a public campaign that educated them to the dangers thereof, what reason do we have to believe they would not be able to kick sugary soft drinks by the same means? None.

So Bloomberg is wrong, and Captain America was right. If one is not free to make one’s own bad or stupid decisions, then one is not free. It is an abiding truth of which we seem to need constant reminders.

Perhaps you remember the axiom about eternal vigilance being the price of freedom. If so, you will not be surprised to hear that Dr. Doom, as he escaped, said he was only defeated “for now.” Or that Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Email: lpitts@ miamiherald.com.

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