The war on fat rages on, and—wouldn’t you know it—one of the leaders in the crusade against fat is, well, on the heavy side.  Jacob Sullum of Reason writes that Kelly Brownell, “a Twinkie tax advocate who never tires of comparing Ronald McDonald to Joe Camel,” actually sports “an extra chin and an ample gut.”  Apparently, Brownell has seen the enemy, and it is him.

But, he would presumably add, it’s not his fault.  People can’t help overeating.  They are victims of evil profit-minded fast-food restaurants and soft-drink manufacturers.  Even Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has joined the ranks of the victims, announcing that Medicare will treat obesity as a disease, fully covered by the government’s health “insurance” program for the elderly.

There was a time when Americans would have dismissed such victim-mongering with a laugh.  Today, however, someone somewhere—preferably with a deep pocket—can always be blamed.  Observes John Banzhaf, who believes in social engineering via lawsuit: “Never underestimate the tenacity of a lawyer working on a contingency fee.”

Equally bad, however, is how government increasingly is captured by the social engineers of all stripes, including the Health Nazis.  Surgeon General Richard Carmona, a minor functionary in the normal course of events, announced last year: “I refuse to accept the spread of obesity.”  He advocated a “prevention agenda,” which would require “all of us working together to the solution to this growing problem.”

This, of course, means government lawsuits, expenditures, and regulations.  Banzhaf advocates “state lawsuits against fast food companies for the public costs of obesity, just as states were so successful in suing tobacco companies for the public costs of smoking.”

Some states already tax snacks more heavily than other foods and manipulate school menus and student access to vending machines.  Brownell, Banzhaf, and others advocate fat taxes, with the proceeds used to fund government propaganda campaigns on behalf of good nutrition.  Brownell even wants to subsidize fruits and vegetables to “improve public health.”  Yet, as Sullum points out, healthy foods already are much cheaper than fat-filled snacks.

Federal outlays will soon mount in light of Secretary Thompson’s announcement.  The obesity lobby—yes, there is such a thing—was naturally pleased.  Said Richard Atkinson, president of the American Obesity Association: “The decision by Medicare recognizes that obesity is not simply a cosmetic issue.”

Once the money flows, so will the rules.  Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, warns: “Unfortunately, regulators love to put in mandates they are not stuck paying for.”

Nor will the paternalists stop there.  Brownell and Marion Nestle of New York University want Uncle Sam to use his benevolent control of the electronic media to mandate that stations carry free ads promoting healthy foods and discouraging bad eating habits.  They would also ban ads directed at kids.

Americans are heavier than they used to be.  The fundamental issue, though, is individual responsibility.  Burger King does not corral customers at gunpoint.  Big Macs do not leap into the mouths of unwilling consumers.  Mars has yet to force-feed anyone M&M’s.

No matter.  Brownell and Katherine Battle Horgen insist that “people have biological vulnerabilities that promote overeating when large portions are available, a strong desire for value, and the capacity to be persuaded by advertising.”

If people are not responsible for their own nutritional and exercise decisions, then who is?  The local pizza parlor?  The Godiva chocolate shop?  The ice-cream man using a happy jingle to attract unwary kids as he drives through suburban neighborhoods?

Surely, supermarkets must share the blame.  After all, they are not doing enough to get people to choose celery over cheesecake.  And what of a wife who cooks up fatty, high-calorie dishes?

As for preventing people from exercising, television is a major culprit—as is Hollywood, for producing movies that people want to watch.  So are the manufacturers of comfortable furniture.

Then, there is the auto industry.  Without cars, we would have to walk more.  The real question, presumably, is: Is anyone or anything not to blame for the growing epidemic of obesity?  Sue or regulate them all!

It is ironic that a fatty like Brownell is seeking to grab control of the state to make everyone else thin.  His paternalistic power grab reflects the cult of victimology: No one is responsible for anything, including himself.

There have always been a certain number of village idiots in American society.  In the past, most were harmless.  Now, however, they end up in positions of influence in the regulatory state.  And they organize misguided wars on everything, from Iraq to obesity.