Jared Goldstein Discovers the “Nanny State” and Tells His Friends

Among the arguments for more intellectual diversity among law school faculties is the simple obliviousness of most academics to how a third to a half of their students think, not to mention a significant portion of the general public.  This is illustrated in Jared Goldstein’s post this morning on BalkinizationBroccoli and the Conservative Imagination, in which he offers a perfectly sensible explanation for the power of the broccoli hypothetical in the debate over the Affordable Care Act:

In the first few months after passage of the Act, anti-Obamacare forces tried out various examples of the terrible things the government might do if it could mandate health insurance coverage. The government could make us buy yo-yos or drive American cars, they warned, or it could make us join a gym. None of these examples, however, carried any emotional punch. In January 2011, they hit upon a much more effective example of the nightmare that would follow if the mandate is upheld when Judge Roger Vinson declared that if Congress can require everyone to buy health insurance, it “could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals.” It quickly gained the status of a knockout argument against Obamacare. So what is it about forced broccoli that gives the argument its power?

To which he answers:

The broccoli argument packs an emotional punch because it plays on conservative anxieties about the family and the welfare state. It warns that what lies at the bottom of the slippery slope if Obamacare is upheld is Big Mother, the liberal she-government that is a perversion of proper parenting and good government. She is overbearing toward the mature children who could decide things for themselves, forcing them to eat broccoli and get health insurance. At the same time, she is overindulgent toward the children who most need toughness. She “coddles” the poor with undeserved benefits when they should be taught self-reliance. She lets illegal aliens stay as long as they want when they should be sent home. She literally lets criminals get away with murder. If Father were in charge, he’d know to lay off the kids who can take care of themselves and instead punish and prod the more wayward children. Striking down Obamacare is a step toward restoring order by a strict father, who, after all, knows best.

Set aside the condescending reference to “conservative anxieties” — neurosis is a favorite explanation for those who think “right” when evil or sheer stupidity are not available — or the implication that one of the things that make conservatives anxious is “the family.”  (He likes “anxieties” so much he uses it twice:  “Putting aside the merits of the argument, it is worth examining why the broccoli argument is a rhetorical tour de force that so powerfully captures the ideology and anxieties of opponents of Obamacare.”)  Oh, and also set aside the  reference to Father Knows Best, which we know represents the conservative desire to return to their imagined Golden Age of the Fifties when men ruled the roost.

No, what is striking about this column is that it never references the well-known phrase “nanny state.”  [But see update below.]  Professor Goldstein seems to have intuited his way to this wide-spread concern about the welfare/regulatory state apparently without any exposure to the actual conservative (or libertarian) political culture in which “nanny state” is a favorite trope.  (Of course, some conservatives favor their own “nanny state” policies, such as the War on Drugs and other morals laws, but that is another matter I blogged about yesterday.)   Having sussed out the conservative mindset, Professor Goldstein then seeks to inform his friends and colleagues who read Jack’s blog of how their alien neighbors must be thinking.  And he is right!

So what are most academics so “anxious” about that they cannot abide having more than a token or two colleagues — if that many — who share the basic cultural and ideological values of a substantial portion of Americans — even the dreaded Tea Partiers?  I think I can guess, but that is only because I spend far more time around my progressive colleagues than they spend around strange folks like me.

UPDATE:  My friend and Jared’s colleague Carl Bogus writes to say that Jared does mention the “nanny state” and so he does.  My bad.  But the rest of the post about the need to explain “the other” in terms of “anxieties” (not just ideology) still stands.  And, if one is already familiar with the “nanny state” metaphor, there is little newsworthy in the post, except for the “Father Knows Best” interpretation of the  trope.  But I was incorrect to say that Jared made no mention of the “nanny state” trope in his piece.