Eat your broccoli or else

If it’s yellow, it must be Jello,

If it’s blue, it could be ste-e-w-w-w!

From the Hot Lunch! song in the movie Fame, 1980

It’s back-to-school time, and progressives are serving up their next round of instruction from Washington on how to live our lives. This time, Michelle Obama and federal bureaucrats are wrecking — er, fixing — school lunch programs with new mandates.

Because, of course, we mere common folk out here in fly-over country really won’t get things right without their enlightened guidance.

As usual, they profess Good Intentions. Mrs. Obama says she’s concerned because many children’s diets include too many empty calories and too little nutrition, making them overweight and unhealthy.

When Laura Bush, a former First Lady of grace, wanted to promote childhood learning and encourage parents to read to their children, she used her own precious time to go to schools and day care centers to actually read to children. She knew her ceremonial position conferred on her some power to provide moral guidance and be a role model, but she also understood that no one elected her and that restraint was due in exercising it.

That’s what people with real compassion do: give of their own time, money and other resources voluntarily to help people who deserve it. But progressives (modern liberals, etc.) use the coercive power of the state to compel their lessers (the rest of us) to do what they want us to, so they can preen and posture to advertise their moral, intellectual and human superiority to us.

Not just Mrs. Obama’s school lunch standards. Also Al Gore’s jetting around the world and wasting large amounts of energy in his Tennessee mansion while lecturing us down his nose and trying to impose draconian and useless carbon standards. Or Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi wrecking health care and insurance for the rest of us because their “reforms” won’t really affect them.

Predictably, Mrs. Obama’s attempt to substitute her diktat for the judgments of parents, local school officials and students themselves over-reaches and blows up. Many schools find children shunning Obamafare, thus going hungry and wasting food. Then they stop buying lunches, again wasting food, and also making school lunch programs lose money.

State standards may also limit the kinds of food sold in school snack bars and vending machines, as well as cafeterias — even the foods that can be sold during the school day for charity and fund-raisers. No more bake-sale cupcakes or cookies or chocolate bars to raise money for theatre or band. (But you can buy those things with your food stamps, and Mrs. Obama isn’t trying to change that.)

The standards effectively impose limits on students’ total calorie intake during the day. While such limits may be advisable for many students, they harm swimmers, distance runners and other athletes who need very high calorie diets to sustain their training – just the kind of failure one always gets from central planning, command and control.

So, some districts have opted out of the national school lunch program and the money it provides. But the restored lunch sales resulting from menu freedom actually put them back in the black, even without the federal money.

“We believe that proper food nutrition and meal portion guidelines are best decided at a local level,” said one Wisconsin school board president. “By leaving the program we will not be required to follow these onerous guidelines, pushed by and large by Michelle Obama, who last time I checked has been elected by no one.”

Congressional Republicans, responding to frustrated parents and school officials across the country, have proposed waivers for schools that lose money for six months due to the standards. They’re supported by the professionals of the national School Nutrition Association. Mrs. Obama’s response was to attack them as not caring about the children and insist on no changes.

Progressivism arose in the 1870s in Germany, holding that unelected alleged experts, commissions and bureaucrats govern better than regimes of individual liberty, economic freedom and limited government. It’s the antithesis of the values that fostered economic growth and human flourishing and made America the most successful society ever.

The essence of progressivism, modern liberalism, statism, European socialism — all various flavors of collectivism — is coercion. Coercion is absolutely essential to these dogmas, and it is always and everywhere destruction of human freedom, well-being and potential. Collectivism’s hoped-for better outcomes are at best uncertain (contingent) and mostly never realized; instead, we get unforeseen and unintended consequences, such as school meals in garbage cans or fed to livestock. In view of all this, coercive collectivists are ignorant of history and arrogant in their aggression and oppression.

Because the unintended consequences are often ridiculous, we sometimes ameliorate them with humor. But today we stand at a crossroads and must choose between progressivism and American exceptionalism. Our children’s futures are at stake.

Ron Knecht is an economist, law school graduate and Nevada higher education regent.


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