Big thanks to Andrew Sullivan for keeping the ball rolling on my New Republic “Fatherland” column of earlier this month, in which I argued that we liberals have sold out our liberal birthright — to be more laid-back than market-driven conservatives — by obsessing over purity and utopian notions of sanitation (among other things). Not just Sully but much of the blogosphere has been peculiarly interested in this topic, and I would have stayed in the battle more visibly if my wife had and I had not welcomed a baby just two weeks ago. But now we’re in the swing of things (hey, it’s our fourth), so I’d like to have my say again.
And to have my say, I need only point to the utter wingnuttery of the reader Sullivan quoted today, addressing my column. See my comments below, interspersed with his or hers:
As a progressive liberal parent, parenting in progressive liberal Seattle, I’m finding the lopsided caricature of liberal parenting presented recently on the blog to be rather unfair. In the specific case of fluoridation, it is by no means proven that fluoride is harmless – some studies have linked fluoride to disruption of the endocrine system, leading to metabolic disorders and thyroid problems. Could America’s obesity rates be somehow linked to its obsession with fluoridating its water? The case against fluoridation is given here.
OK, so science is not this parent’s thing. Everything is toxic at a high-enough dose, but millions of Americans over many decades have grown up with fluoridated water — in fact, Portland is one of the last large cities in the country not to have fluoridated water. We have millions of case studies of the effects of fluoridated water, and the effect seems to be ... healthier teeth. Speaking of which, our country's obesity spike occurred well after cities began putting fluoride in the water. In short, this line of argument is worthless, as well as elitist: note that the author doesn’t seem to care at all about the profound need in poor communities for the dental-health measures that the author can take for granted.
But in general, I would consider being against fluoridation to be a somewhat conservative stance. To me the idea of adding medicines to drinking water seems to be the nanny state operating at its finest (there is no other reason for adding fluoride to water beyond the prevention of tooth decay). If I want to use fluoride, then it’s super simple for me to just buy a fluoridated toothpaste, giving me a degree of choice and control over what I put into my body that federally-mandated fluoridation just doesn’t give me.
Indeed, I made the point that anti-fluoridation is, properly, a stance of the far right. It used to be, as it happens, a stance primarily of the far right. As to "simple ... just to buy fluoridated toothpaste," this is doubly offensive. First, the author misunderstands the science — having fluoride in the water helps the teeth grow in strong — and, second, the author smugly forgets the children growing up in homes without a regular supply of toothpaste, or supervised tooth brushing. They need this public health measure most.
On a more general note, I’m a firm believer in “you are what you eat”. I don’t think it’s an accident that my daughter is very rarely sick.
I can only say that millions of parents are laughing along with me right now. “My daughter” — you mean your only child, the one without siblings bringing home colds and fevers to share? When my wife and I had just a “my daughter,” we used to be smug about how rarely she was sick. Now that “daughter” has become “daughters,” we laugh less. They are sick more. And by the way, we’re vegetarians, our kids eat very healthily ... and still they get sick.
It’s because she generally gets her five fruits and vegetables a day. But I have to be vigilant over what my eight-year-old daughter puts in her body because no one else is doing it for me. Added sugars, salt, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated fats are routinely added to processed foods, often when you would least expect them. Why do juice boxes require added sugar? Wherever she goes – camps, after school activities, birthday parties – she is presented with an overwhelming abundance of boxed pizza, boxed mac ‘n cheese and processed sugary treats. Try finding a vegetable, or even fruit, on any kids menu in America. And that’s before we get to the barrage of propaganda on behalf of (government subsidized) Big Ag that she’s subjected to every time she turns on the TV.
It seems to me that “conservatism” is all about preserving the status quo of Big Ag and Big Pharma, whereas it is we progressive liberals who are seeking to return to and conserve an earlier simpler world where we can all have access to nutritious food grown in proper soil by local farmers. If we occasionally seem paranoid and over-zealous – and we are sometimes – it’s because that simple goal is nowadays really difficult to achieve.