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How to Mix Food and Politics

Posted by tinako on July 12, 2010

Rogan Kersh

Rogan Kersh, a political science professor and researcher, was the guest on a Rudd Report interview I listened to recently.  He had some interesting things to say about the history and current realities of the government butting into people’s private lives.  He said that there was a time when people did not believe that drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or sex was the government’s business, and discusses what it took in some of those cases, particularly tobacco and alcohol, for a topic to move from being considered private to being considered a legitimate subject of regulation.  He lists the seven triggers: social disapproval, medicalization (causes a medical problem), self-help springs up, demonization of industry, demonization of users, social movement (marches), and interest groups pushing specific plans.

He and the interviewer, Professor Brownell, discuss the demonizing of alcohol.  They come to agree that it is undesirable to demonize a company or an individual, because it can lead to excesses like bans (think Prohibition); and better to criticize certain practices and seek to “reshape destructive activities.”  Demonizing is unproductive, makes enemies and leads to overcorrection.  Working with industry tends to be more fruitful.  On the other hand, he spends some time talking about the lessons learned from the tobacco settlement.

He discusses what an effective campaign needs to include, the short answer being that you need a wide range of tactics.  I thought he had interesting, nuanced things to say about litigation.  He said that for the past 20 years, the important public health policies were decided in the courts (think tobacco and Terry Shiavo).  He said it is much easier to get a judge to agree with you than enough of Congress, because industry interests and lobbyists are so powerful, and there are so many ways to stall and kill a bill.  The problem with litigation, though, is that the changes often do not endure – the judge does not have the resources to follow up and make sure the judgment is carried out, and so it will be up to those who brought the case to check up and probably file repeated lawsuits against the offender.

He said it is important to ally with an organization with power and experience in government, because the “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” thing is not very effective.

Listen to the interview for much more.  Kersh has valuable insight into how government works in these cases, and how it doesn’t.

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