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Jared Bernstein was on Bill Maher’s show yesterday, trying to convince him that a tax on soda was a good idea. After all, he says, soda contributes to obesity, and obesity contributes to chronic diseases that cost all of us a lot of money:

But Bill’s point, which I ultimately found pretty convincing (he kept hitting me with it after the show!), is that there’s tons of stuff like that—behaviors that people engage in with potential negative externalities. To suggest taxing them all is what give liberals a bad name, he asserted in terms rarely heard in policy seminars.

Maher is right. Liberals are annoying almost by definition. We are constantly hectoring people to stop doing stuff they’re comfortable with and to instead do brand new stuff that they find awkward, difficult, embarrassing,and wearisome. There’s no help for that—it’s part of the essence of liberalism—but the key to success is to pick our battles carefully. The game needs to be worth the candle.

Unfortunately, we do have a wee tendency to overdo things, which creates lots of resentment for no appreciable gain. It may seem unfair that overdoing things modestly hurts us more than genuinely nutbag stuff—like, say, the video on the right—seems to hurt conservatives, but that’s life. Extremism in the defense of the status quo just isn’t as scary as the opposite. This has been true approximately forever, I think.

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