To the amusement of those observers fortunate enough not to live in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez railed against the perils of obesity during his weekly address on Sunday. As reported by the Associated Press, Chavez instructed his people to “be careful with obesity,” now that malnutrition “no longer exists in the country.”
A glance at any recent photo of the dictator shows it has been a long time since malnutrition existed for him. Doubtless he finds it flattering to warn Venezuelans that the affluence created by his “Good Life Cards” is fattening. Don’t eat so quickly from that cornucopia, comrade – you’ll give yourself a belly ache!
Obesity joins alcoholism, breast implants, and violent TV shows as “the evils of capitalism” Uncle Hugo has been crusading against lately. He also recently accused capitalism and imperialism of destroying life on Mars. When astronauts discover Martian caves full of fat aliens mummified in girlie magazines and junk food wrappers, with TV remotes wrapped in their dusty tentacles, the world will stop laughing at this visionary leader.
Chavez is part of a long tradition of socialist leaders launching public health crusades. Comparisons with our own First Lady’s anti-obesity campaign are obvious. Even the particularly unhappy socialist experiment in early 20th-century Germany featured high-profile public campaigns against smoking and alcohol consumption.
It’s logical enough for a collectivist to express concern about the quality of the human capital at the disposal of the State. The socialization of health care in Western nations makes individual health the literal business of the government. When you accept the moral and practical argument for government control of medicine, official control of your lifestyle becomes quite reasonable – why should the State indulge your lousy diet by allocating extra rations of medicine to deal with the complications? If you don’t want politicians nagging you about your eating habits, don’t put them in charge of your health care, or expect your fellow citizens to pay for it.
There’s always a certain atmosphere of joy that surrounds these official lifestyle campaigns. The diet scolds come off as happy warriors, not stone-faced accountants wrestling with grim bottom lines for public medical programs. That’s because public health is the Eternal Crusade, a perfect combination of selfless moralizing and political influence. It’s a heartwarming expression of ultimate compassion, drawing strength from the background hum of human guilt. Will there ever be a society that believes itself universally fit and properly nourished?
Every collectivist government has maternal aspirations. Politicians love to see themselves as wise parents or older brothers. (The closer a government gets to outright totalitarianism, the less its leader can resist the urge to declare himself the “father” of his nation.) Health crusades develop that maternal relationship, and lay the emotional groundwork for other demands the State plans to make of its citizens. There are many things you should be compelled to do for your own good.