Crossposted from

cdc poster
Like a jackboot on your neck

GOP politicians and the business leaders who own them are enamored with cutting what they see as onerous regulations. They are often supported by the public in this because they rarely mention the specific rules that are oppressing business owners and stifling prosperity, preferring instead to describe them using vague and bloodless terms like “red tape” or “bureaucracy”. You are meant to think of them as arbitrary and mostly unnecessary, and it never hurts their cause when there’s a story about some little girl’s lemonade stand being shut down by overzealous government agents for not being properly licensed.

But it turns out that most business regulations don’t merely exist as a full employment act for capricious civil service tyrants. They are there to protect the health and safety of workers and consumers. One such requirement, which I’m hopeful is in place everywhere, is that employees who handle food must wash their hands after using the restroom. Up to this moment I had lived in the naive bliss that this was something that everyone could agree was reasonable. Alas, no.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said Monday that he’s okay with the idea of service industry workers returning to work without washing their hands after touching their unmentionables, as long as customers are made aware of the situation.

Tillis made the declaration at to the Bipartisan Policy Center, at the end of a question and answer with the audience. He was relaying a 2010 anecdote about his “bias when it comes to regulatory reform.”

“I was having a discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like ‘maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,’” he said, “as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment literature, or whatever else.”

Tillis was, at the time, the minority whip of the North Carolina House of Representatives.

“She said, ‘I can’t believe that,’” he continued in retelling the story. “And at that time we were sitting back at a table that was near the restrooms and one of the employees just came out. She said: ‘For example, don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentleman to wash his hands before he serves your food is important and should be on the books?’”

“I said: ‘As a matter of fact, I think it’s one that I can [use to] illustrate the point,’” he remarked. “I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,”’” he recalled, as the audience chuckled. “The market will take care of that.’”

“That’s the sort of mentality that we need to have to reduce the regulatory burden on this country,” he added. “We’re one of the most regulated nations in the history of the planet.”

Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet joked that he was “not sure” he would shake Sen. Tillis’ hand when the discussion was over, causing the lawmaker and members of the audience to laugh.

As you can see, Tillis’ statement was so out there that it was too much for even the very pro-business Bipartisan Policy Center to take! Of course, rich people enjoy and can afford to eat in restaurants often so I guess it’s understandable that someone like Mr. Grumet would recoil at his suggestion. But when there’s little chance of rich people personally being harmed, as in by dumping pollution in poor communities or subjecting workers to dangerous and unsanitary conditions, for example, they’re all for making safety standards as voluntary as possible.

Another bizarre aspect of what Tillis said is that the people who would tangibly enjoy being unburdened from having to wash their hands after relieving themselves would be the low wage workers themselves. Does he really think that workers have been dying for a savior on that instead of, say, freedom from mandatory drug testing or having to hand over their social media passwords to their employers? I have my doubts about that.

Arizona has been fully taken over by people who embrace Thom Tillis’s brand of free market near-absolutism. From Governor Ducey’s inauguration speech:

Guarding public health, protecting children, supporting higher education, building roads where we develop and preserving natural lands where we don’t, these too are among the fundamentals, and they must be done wisely and well.

So we will not be searching these next four years for new excuses to insert government into the lives of our people. Americans get plenty of that already from Washington, D.C. By observing limits on government, we are merely recognizing the limits of its competence. In securing individual freedom, we affirm the ability, the dignity, and the right of free men and women to make their own decisions and to find their own way.

I’d be interested in hearing Gov. Ducey’s thoughts on things like mandatory hand-washing for restaurant workers. I definitely want to know what his position on vaccinations is.