How About That “Evil” Nanny?

One of the things that Republicans seem to be good at these days are creating negative images from terms that elicit negative responses from susceptible people.  The goal here has been to distort reality and get people to vote against their own self-interests.  


One of the more successful wordsmiths who ply this trade is conservative consultant Frank Luntz.  According to a piece by Michael McFadden over at, Luntz “is a paid operative of the GOP … [that] conducts focus groups and polls voters to gauge their reaction to carefully scripted, GOP friendly talking points. … The problem with these propagandistic talking points … is that where objective facts are inconsistent with the prescribed talking point, the facts are ignored”.   Luntz is known to have famously coined the term “death tax” to substitute when discussing the estate tax; a tax that only affects the top wealthy tier in this country but is conveyed by the right as a tax on all of our children when we die.

Another popular term that gets bandied about frequently by so-called “small government” types as in this recent post by conservative columnist, Thomas Sowell is the “nanny state” – those government efforts to inform the American people of habits and products that are detrimental to their general welfare.  In his column, Sowell goes after those who attribute poor eating habits of the poor, obesity and the serious and costly medical issues this condition manifests.

The political left has turned obesity among low-income individuals into an argument that low-income people cannot afford nutritious food, and so have to resort to burgers and fries, pizzas and the like, which are more fattening and less healthful.

Burgers, pizzas and the like cost more than food that you can buy at a store and cook yourself. If you can afford junk food, you can certainly afford healthier food.

I would challenge his presumption that you can find certified organic, grass-fed beef or pork or free-range chicken that hadn’t been raised with antibiotics injected into them at crowded, unsanitary animal factories as cheap as what takes up most space at supermarkets.  I would like to know what market he found this at so I could save some money myself; provided there were enough of them within a short driving distance to prevent high fuel bills.  Of course demand would be a big factor in bringing healthy organic food prices down but we need to create a “joy” in cooking to stimulate that kind of demand, something Sowelll finds issue with after reading Mark Bittman in an article in The New York Times on Sept. 25.

Mark Bittman showed that you can cook a meal for four at half the cost of a meal from a burger restaurant. So far, so good. But then Mr. Bittman says that the problem is “to get people to see cooking as a joy.”  For this, he says, “we need action both cultural and political.” In other words, the nanny state to the rescue!

Since when are adult human beings supposed to do only those things that are a joy? I don’t find any particular joy in putting on my shoes. But I do it rather than go barefoot. I don’t always find it a joy to drive a car, especially in bad weather, but I have to get from here to there.

An arrogant elite’s condescension toward the people — treating them as children who have to be jollied along — is one of the poisonous problems of our time. It is at the heart of the nanny state and the promotion of a debilitating dependency that wins votes for politicians while weakening a society

So, from this we are to assume that “nannyism” has only adverse affects that promote a “debilitating dependency” while “weakening” members of society.  I wonder what people like C.S. Lewis, Theodore Roosevelt, Liz Cheney, and yes, even Michele Bachman would have to say about this?

When C.S. Lewis was a child he lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and had an Irish nanny named Lizzie Endicott who told him wonderful bedtime stories about giants and leprechauns. Lizzie and her stories probably inspired the nurse in Prince Caspian who told the prince tales about Old Narnia.

Dick Cheney’s daughter, Liz leaves her small children with a nanny, so she can work on her father’s memoir either at her house or at her parents.

Mame was the family nanny for Theodore & Edith Roosevelt.  Theodore D. Roosevelt, Jr., the President’s eldest son, was an American political and business leader and a Medal of Honor recipient who fought in both of the 20th century’s world wars

Kermit, the second child of T.R. and Edith, was awarded the Military Cross for service in WWII, Founder of the Roosevelt Steamship Company and the United States Lines and was noted for being a great writer, linguist, naturalist, and avid reader.

As a teenager in Anoka, Minn., Michele Bachman was a nanny for a young girl named Gretchen Carlson. Today, Carlson, a Stanford honors graduate who studied at Oxford, is a host of “Fox & Friends,” the morning show on the Fox News Channel.

Maria Von Trapp was a nanny before she married the Commander Georg Ludwig von Trapp and fled Austria with him and their kids when the Nazis invaded Austria.

Boston Beer Chairman Jim Koch uses nannies for his daughters, ages 8 and 10.

There are also those fictional nannies that don’t fit the negative stereo type portrayed by Mr. Sowell, like Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee.  All of these characters, real or imagined, connote positive images in their role as nannies.  Yet the anti-government crowd on the right would have you believe that educating less-than-fully developed, uninformed people, encouraging good habits and punishing bad behavior are inherently evil.  It further presumes that individuals can always make sound decisions on their own without any influence from others or that poor judgements are never made by undue influence of people with an agenda or who are short of a full deck themselves.

The dark side of nanny Mary Poppins

One isn’t necessarily left with the impression that these characters coddle their charges to the point they cannot fully develop self-serving skills  In fact the goal of most nannies, unlike the beliefs of people like Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan and Thomas Sowell, is not to replace parents but to nurture their young charges in ways that correct poor self-serving behaviors to ones that enable critical thinking and make the best available choices.  Education is essential to a healthy, productive society but somehow if that education is seen to be connected with the state, as Sowell does, then it only serves to undermine our health and prosperity.  How weird.

Is it “nannyism” that protects us from diseased food imported from abroad or salmonella from contaminated turkey or tainted peanut butter here within our own borders?   Could some of the deaths that resulted from such outbreaks have been prevented if federal agency budgets were not cut by the anti-government forces now dominating the U.S. House of Representatives, giving those agencies less man-power to monitor and hopefully prevent such outbreaks?


Some parents who hire nannies have done so because they have chosen to engage in productive activities that keeps them from fulfilling aspects of their role as a parent.  Sometimes that choice is one that we benefit from when public service is their choice that keeps them separated from their children for great periods of time.  Any nanny that totally spoils a child and fails to enhance strong characteristics does so at the risk of being terminated or has been asked to perform in a low, menial way by the parents themselves.

Would Sowell also argue that any behavior that suits our own taste, like having non-consentual sex with a minor, be ignored by the state?  One might argue that this is an apples to oranges comparison but then I would say that so is his comparison of putting on his shoes or driving a car to that of educating people about the need to cook their own food.  All acts may not be a joy but they can make life much more pleasant and rewarding, feelings that align with our personal self-interests (provided of course that some of those cars we are driving are hybrid or electric-powered).

Many of the efforts of the maligned “nanny state” that Sowell attacks are often nothing more than factual information that encourage voluntary reaction to them.  And in those cases where some are fined or even imprisoned for violating them to prevent further injury to ourselves and others, is this not the same action employed by the state now to prevent drunk driving and other traffic offenses like speeding?

I dare say though that those who don’t follow the helpful advice on eating better will not suffer any consequences from the state but could well shorten their own life from such “self-determination”.


5 responses to “How About That “Evil” Nanny?

  1. I guess, as they say, it is all in the “spin” and he like wordsmiths on both sides, truly are great at finding ways to make their ideas stick. Is this any different than the term, Obamacare? But why pick on Mary Poppins? She didn’t do anything to anyone to get her reputation sullied. Although she did encourage a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. I guess she was promoting obesity and diabetes in her own sneaky way.

  2. I don’t even know that these words can be classified as “spin.” Kendrick, over at Little Prince discusses spin vs. lying in one of his latest posts. I think that this kind of speech (Obamacare, “nanny state,” and “death panels”) falls into some category of rhetoric that is far more egregious than mere spin. It’s a lie told to intentionally frame and promote an ugly argument and to paint entire groups of individuals in a negative light. And the words are so carefully chosen for their negative, inciting appeal.

    I listened to a woman on NPR the other day discussing the issue of junk food and whether food stamps should be allowed to pay for them. The issue is that many seniors, disabled, and other poor can’t get to the grocery store to buy healthier foods. They lack transportation, they can’t walk to the bus stop, they have no access to or can’t afford “meals on wheels.” Grocery stores aren’t down the block or next door to them. Thomas Sowell is so like so many of the conservatives – completely ignorant or uncaring about the lives of people they never ever come into contact with. It’s so easy to condemn when you’re living on Park Avenue dining on a filet.

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