What happens when the government tries to "suggest" things

I have no children, but I think it’s fairly safe for me to say that, in most cases, children should be breast-fed over given formula. Repeated studies have shown that, as a general principle, breast milk from the mother is superior to store-bought food.

The government of Massachusetts saw the same studies, and decided that it should urge mothers to nurse their children over buying formula. But that wasn’t good enough for some Massachusetts officials. They thought that their recommendation was so important, they decided to put a little force behind it.

In Massachusetts, new mothers are given a “gift bag” by the hospital, one that contains a bunch of stuff they might find useful. Included was some formula.

I say “was” because in December the state’s Public Health Council decided to encourage new mothers to eschew formula by banning hospitals from including free formula in the bags.

Governor Romney didn’t like that decision. He raised some heck (he’s a Mormon, so I really shouldn’t say “raised hell”) with the Council, urging them to reconsider their policy in no uncertain terms. They eventually did, but not before three of their number (the board has nine members) were informed that they would not be re-appointed by the Governor to continue to serve on the board.

The Boston Glob seems to be taking the side of the board members who lost their seats, but in this case I think Romney was right. These board members had crossed a line — they had taken their “recommendation” and tried to impose their beliefs into force. They had abused their authority, and as such Romney was not only right to remove them, but was obligated to do so.

Asking people to “recommend” practices when they have the power to enforce that “recommendation” is a dangerous thing. The inclination to make sure people “do what they should” is a powerful one, and one that must be resisted. People have the right to be wrong, and government has no business protecting them from their own mistakes to that degree.

The legislature has reworked the board, doubling its membership, changing the requirements to serve, and altering how members are appointed. Time will tell whether it will be an actual improvement, but based on my own observations, I feel fairly safe in predicting that it will not work out well. I strongly suspect that the changes were enacted for purely political reasons: the move was seen as a victory for Romney, the Republican governor, and whether or not the results are good, such things must not stand unchallenged. In other words: screw the mothers and babies, we can’t let a Republican look good.

Of course, I could be wrong. But being cynical when it comes to interpreting the acts of Massachusetts Democrats is usually the safe way to go. (See: Kennedy, Edward Moore; Kerry, John Francis; and Dukakis, Michael Stanley, just to name three nationally-known examples.)

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