1. Americans fought to make cars safer — less explode-y, with seat and shoulder belts, airbags, shatterproof glass, and protections from front and side collisions and rollover crashes. “Driver assistance safety features” such as rear-vision camera and lane-change alerts are available even in the cheapest Toyotas. Auto makers compete on vehicle safety ratings because people want safer cars. Result: Fewer people get hurt or die. And nobody took our cars away.
2. Americans fought to make food healthier — with more natural ingredients and nutritional value, fewer nasty chemicals, better information to make healthy choices, and less lying on the packages. Food makers now compete to seem the healthiest. The standard kids’ Goldfish crackers (made by Campbell’s) now come in a 70 percent organic version to compete with the mostly organic Cheddar Bunnies made by Annie’s Homegrown (owned by General Mills). The pressure for healthier food has worked. Result: Fewer people get sick or die. And nobody took our food away.
3. Americans fought to make the air, water and soil cleaner and safer — with tighter rules on using, dumping, spewing, leaking and cleaning up toxic stuff. Chemical corporations now hire brand consulting firms to show and convince us how they’re greener than Kermit. We’ve made amazing progress in 50 years — dangerously polluted places in my youth like Lake Erie are now attractions — though we’re backsliding now. Nevertheless, the result: Fewer people get sick or die. And nobody took our chemicals away.
4. Americans fought to make commerce safer — with evolving protections for consumers as scammers find new ways. While Trump has attacked post-2008 financial meltdown reforms, including the Consumer Financial Protection Board and curbs on payday loan sharks, the fight for consumer rights has made progress and lives on. Result: Fewer people get screwed. And nobody took our financial sector away.
5. Americans fought to make prescription drugs safer — with new research into causes, cures and side effects, new regulations, and new warnings that often sound worse than the malady.
For example, “Common side effects of Belsomra [a sleep aid] include headache, sleepiness, next day drowsiness, dizziness, abnormal dreams, diarrhea, dry mouth, cough, and upper respiratory tract infection. Belsomra may cause serious side effects that you may not know are happening to you, including ‘sleep-walking’ or doing other activities when you are asleep like eating, talking, having sex, or driving a car.”
While all that doesn’t sound worth the sleep — it would keep me awake — better drug regulations mean as least we know the downsides. Result: Fewer people get sick or die. And nobody took our drugs away.
6. Americans fought to make sports safer — with better rules, equipment, training and turf. Speaking of an actual slippery slope, even ski resorts are “committed to promoting slope safety,” one avows. Result: Fewer people get injured or die. And nobody took our sports away.
7. Americans fought to make everything safer — from homes free of lead paint and asbestos, to air travel (zero commercial passenger deaths in 2017, the safest year ever), to childproof caps and flame-retardant pajamas and sofas, to BPA-free water bottles — you name it, it’s safer. Result: Fewer people get sick, hurt or die. And nobody took away our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Recently, I asked a politically astute friend and colleague how a tiny minority of people in the country can override the vast majority and halt reasonable gun laws, including a ban on easy purchase of combat-designed AR-15 assault weapons. Or even tighter background checks and bans on AR-15 accessories that help crazies slaughter many innocent people in minutes.
How does this minority win with all kinds of cockamamie excuses not to make assault weapons illegal for civilian use like we do machine guns, bombs, grenades, shoulder-mounted antitank missiles and other devices specifically designed for the battlefield to kill a lot of people?
My friend is a lifelong wool-dyed Republican. He served in the Reagan White House, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee under Newt Gingrich, and managed GOP House races and offices. His father was an esteemed senior White House and Pentagon official in the Ford Administration. Suffice to say, my friend is no anti-gun liberal.
Neither am I, having served in the military, covered the Pentagon as a journalist, and served as head speechwriter for the Secretary of Defense for five years.
But I wanted to hear my friend’s perspective. The nation has 323 million people. The NRA has 5 million members, and not all are hard core. What’s stopping reasonable gun policy?
“Slippery slope,” he sighed. The NRA plays on, and whips up, fears of Second Amendment fundamentalists that if they give an inch, eventually the liberals and their jack-booted government agents will take a mile and everyone’s guns, including the pistol to defend your home and family. Or rifle to defend your country from tyranny.
“But that’s crazy,” I said. “We make rules all the time that draw a line. We had an assault weapons ban in 1994 and there was no slippery slope — quite the opposite. It ended in 2004. We put practical, sensible limits on First Amendment and other Constitutional rights all the time, and they’re still in force, and many are stronger.
“If you apply the slippery slope logic,” I said, “we wouldn’t have any of the car safety, food safety, drug safety or any other safeguards that protect us and our families and kids, right?”
“Yeah,” he said.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer