Thursday, September 9, 2004

When Bill Clinton suggested that John Kerry talk more about domestic issues in order to boost his sagging presidential campaign, the creation of a new federal Department of Wellness was probably not what the former president had in mind. But that’s what Mr. Kerry advocated Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C. MSNBC quoted him as stating that, in an effort to reduce the cost of health-care coverage, “I intend to have not just a Department of Health and Human Services, but a Department of Wellness.”

In truth, it’s probably just a matter of time before the level of ridicule rises to a level sufficient to bring Mr. Kerry’s spin team out in force to tell everyone that the senator never proposed any such thing, and that anyone who says he did is conspiring with the White House to impugn his patriotism. But, for now, it seems clear enough that in the coming Kerry administration, the wellness secretary will have a seat at Cabinet meetings alongside luminaries like the secretaries of state and defense.

It’s not clear precisely what the Secretary of Wellness will do. But it’s probably fair to expect that such a person will be a guardian of nanny-state liberalism. He or she will be responsible for ensuring that all 300 million or so of us behave in ways that will make us more healthy, in order to hold down the costs of all the new government-run health-care programs that a President Kerry would create.

We can envision bureaucratic health-care SWAT teams operating out of offices in the District and all 50 states. They would make random inspections of restaurants to conduct tests of food to ensure that it meets certain carbohydrate standards (this would be particularly important at fast-food restaurants). Wellness inspectors could go door to door, with a goal of visiting every American household within 18 months of President Kerry’s inauguration, interrogating people about how much exercise they are getting and what foods they are eating. Perhaps the inspectors could help Americans develop “voluntary” family anti-smoking programs and, in conjunction with their family doctors, develop federally supervised individual plans to improve their diets and reduce their cholesterol.

In cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration, federal and state wellness inspectors could run new radio-television advertising campaigns urging overweight Americans to change their ways and cooperate with federal inspectors who seek to enter their homes and discuss how they can improve their diets.

Of course, Americans should stop smoking and start exercising, and many would do well to change their eating habits. But these things can be dealt with in private with our doctors. A new federal wellness bureaucracy — a scheme apparently dreamed up by Teresa Heinz Kerry — is not the way to do this. Fortunately, it’s looking less and less like her husband will have the opportunity to foist this nonsense on all of us.

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