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Water is not “free”

Fresh off a triumphant childhood obesity campaign that left school children in open rebellion against her tiny, unappetizing school lunches, our First Lady – an unelected, unvetted, unconfirmed, unqualified national Minister of Health – has embarked on a crusade to make people drink more water.  The splashy rollout of this campaign met immediately with resistance from the same grumpy, fact-obsessed realists who have interfered with so many other glorious ruling-class crusades.  There isn’t actually any medical consensus that people aren’t drinking enough water, or that higher water consumption is particularly good for you, or that it leads to increased energy… particularly among the kids who are already complaining about fatigue from the insufficient nutrition provided by Michelle Obama’s school lunches.

“There really isn’t any data to support this,” a kidney specialist told Politico.  “It’s not a very scientific approach they’ve taken.  To make it a major public health effort, I think I would say it’s bizarre.”

Oh, come on, Doc!  It’s all in good fun.  It’s not like consuming an excessive amount of water can hurt you.  Well, okay, actually it can.  There’s even a word for the process: “drowning.”  But that’s not what Mrs. O has in mind here, right?  She just wants to “promote the no-calorie drink in all of its free or paid forms,” as the Chicago Sun-Times puts it.

The message that water is free and fun runs strongly through the “Drink Up!” initiative.  “Water is so basic, and because it is so plentiful, sometimes we just forget about it amid all the ads we watch on television and all the messages we receive every day about what to eat and drink,” the First Lady said during her Wisconsin campaign launch. “The truth is, water just gets drowned out.”

But water is not “free.”  It very much is a heavily advertised product in its bottled forms.  The big beverage companies all just happen to sell bottled water, and it’s not cheap.  For example, Dasani water is a Coca-Cola product.  If you check out a Coke vending machine, you might well see bottles of Dasani on offer as well… and they usually cost the same as a bottle of soda.  Which, in both cases, is considerably more than the cost of a gallon of gasoline. 

Tap water is not “free,” either.  Everyone who pays their own water bill is acutely aware of this.  In many areas, tap water isn’t a very appealing or healthy beverage choice, so people spend extra money to purify it, or they buy bottled water.  Even a public water fountain is not dispensing “free” water – someone is paying to maintain it.

And Mrs. Obama’s campaign to promote water isn’t “free,” either.  Her personal expenses are largely covered by the public.  NBC News gave her an incredibly valuable in-kind advertising gift by letting her “invade” the Today Show to push her water initiative, during which appearance she chirped that she had stolen the hosts’ coffee mugs and replaced them with water bottles.  Great – we’re supposed to laugh merrily as the Nanny State swipes the cups right off our desks and forces us to drink a government-approved beverage instead.  She went on to make appearances on “Good Morning, America,” “The View,” “Live with Kelly and Michael,” and all of the late-night shows, along with enlisting “The Doctors” and Rachel Ray to push her water agenda, according to the Daily Caller.  How many millions of dollars is all that in-kind advertising worth?

The First Lady is actually serving as the omnipresent, taxpayer-subsidized pitch woman for a fairly pricey commercial product, a fact not lost on the Chicago Sun-Times:

 There is a potential controversy brewing—one noted in Wisconsin papers this week. Though there are at least 10 places in the U.S. named “Watertown,” Mrs. Obama’s team picked the one with two soft drink companies, Wis-Pak, which makes Pepsi-Cola drinks and the 7-Up Bottling Co.

Non-profit organizations and the water industry are heavily involved in backing Mrs. Obama’s water promotion: The American Beverage Association and International Bottled Water Association and BRITA, Aquafina, BEVERLY HILLS 9OH2O, DASANI, EVIAN Natural Spring Water, Hint, Voss, WAT-AAH!, and Nestlé Waters brands (North America’s Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Nestlé Pure Life, Ozarka, Poland Spring, resource and Zephyrhills) will be, according to the White House, “promoting the Drink Up message on products, through public events, via digital, print, social and out of home media efforts and other publicity.”

Young & Rubicam, Buck, Antfood, Nielsen, Proclivity Media, VML, and Core Strategies handled research, marketing, messaging and advertising for the water drive.

Gosh, that seems like an awful lot of involvement from people who stand to make money if the First Lady of the United States can leverage the prestige and power of the federal government into convincing people that their health depends on purchasing more water.  The Washington Post makes the benefits to Big Beverage crystal clear:

The latest campaign is backed by the American Beverage Association, which represents the makers of soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and juices as well as bottled water, and the International Bottled Water Association.

Nestle said it actually helps the major soft drink companies, which have seen a decrease in soda sales and are investing heavily in promoting bottled water brands and other drinks, she said.

“This is a partnership with soda companies to promote their bottled waters,” Nestle said.

Amusingly, Mrs. Obama is also getting some steam from health advocates who say she’s not doing enough to explicitly denounced Demon Soda, and environmentalists who worry about the eco-damage from all those discarded plastic water bottles.  Which is strange, because schools spend so much time teaching kids how to recycle, as one of the many social crusades they push instead of spending time on reading, writing, history, and so forth.  If environmentalism was formally classified as a religion, there wouldn’t be a truly “secular” school left in America.  Maybe concerned environmentalists should push for the mandatory use of reusable water bottles, at least in school.

As a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, nothing makes me happier than watching companies compete with each other to offer me high-quality water at the best price.  Walking through the bottled water display at Costco brings a tear of free-market joy to my eye.  Which I must replenish by drinking water.  Man, those advertising guys don’t miss a trick, do they?

But anyway, I’m all in favor of corporations bringing us an incredibly generous selection of food and beverage products, and advertising like the dickens to persuade us to purchase their wares.  But the government has no business meddling in this commerce, especially when taxpayers wind up footing a great deal of the bill.  Michelle Obama’s water crusade also makes us more comfortable with Nanny State interventions based on shaky science, and we’re far too tolerant of those already.  Not only is the endless lifestyle hectoring from politicians annoying, it builds up the already monstrous, and largely undeserved, aura of authority the Ruling Class uses to manipulate us.  That nice lady who wants you to drink more water and get healthy because she cares about you… why, you can trust her… and her husband, and his cabinet, and his czars…  And if they’ve got time to nag us about beverage consumption, they must have everything else totally under control!

An infantile electorate will put up with nonsense that responsible adults would never tolerate.

 

 

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