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The Terror of the Broccoli

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James Stewart’s article about how the “broccoli mandate” went from particularly dumb winger talk-radio fodder to being taken seriously by the Supreme Court of the United States isn’t bad, although it would have been nice if he had given some space to the people who disagree with it to explain why it’s wrong rather than just permitting them bare assertions.

The necessity of a slippery slope argument in trying to argue that the tax penalty for not buying insurance is unconstitutional is obvious for the same reason it fails: the argument is particularly weak as applied to health care because nobody “chooses” not to participate in the health care market. The rare person who chooses to be uninsured (as opposed to having the choice thrust upon her) is just free-riding and cost-shifting, precisely the type of problem the commerce clause was designed to allow the federal government to solve. And yet, it seems to me that the broccoli mandate doesn’t take full advantage of the fact that slippery slope arguments, like dreams, are totally free. If you trying to terrify people with policies that have no chance of being enacted to distract from the farcical weakness of your argument, can’t you come up with something a little scarier than being compelled to purchase a nutritious vegetable that, as Sarah Kliff notes, Americans tend to like? Given that the America government can already do much scarier things, this being the bottom of the slippery slope becomes self-refuting.

And yet, there is something about it that taps into a particular segment of American culture. I am reminded of this gem from Ben McGrath’s far-too-credulous Lenny Dykstra profile:

Dykstra asked me to order him a wedge of iceberg with blue cheese, and excused himself to go outside and chat. By the time he returned, the piano player had started his set. “Brutal—can’t take this,” Dykstra said. We moved to a table on the opposite side of the restaurant. After some consultation with her manager, the waitress informed Dykstra that the Four Seasons didn’t offer iceberg lettuce. “I do have romaine,” she said. “Would that be O.K.?”

“Give me a cheeseburger,” he said.

I suppose that to people who are only willing to have a salad only on the condition that the base ingredient be entirely devoid of nutrients, the mythical “broccoli mandate” is pretty much the scariest thing they can think of.

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