Government has been getting a bum rap this year for trying to help us be our better selves. Eat less salt. Drink less soda. Turn off the lights. Exercise more. Be better parents. Don't text while driving.
The goals are admirable, although, to some, the government nudging is not.
"Instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician's wife's priorities, just leave us alone," Sarah Palin recently snapped, "get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions."
Palin was talking about perhaps the least controversial of all of the above national aspirations — Michelle Obama's campaign to get kids in danger of obesity moving around and eating better. (The tea party favorite must have been defending, some commentators concluded, Americans' God-given right to be fat.)
Palin, then, probably won't be taking advantage of this latest offer from Uncle Sam: If you've got a New Year's resolution, the federal government would like to help you keep it.
The USA.gov website has tapped guidance from across government's wide-ranging agencies to help you keep that promise to yourself in 2011 to manage your debt better, or quit smoking, or drink less alcohol.
THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.
The site focuses on 11 popular New Year's resolutions. Depending on how you look at the compilation, the project is either an excellent use for an avalanche of little-used government resources — or a disturbing nod to the reality that so many such resources exist (thanks to taxpayer dollars) in the first place.
If you're aiming, say, to drink less alcohol, USA.gov links you to a slew of digital pamphlets and fact sheets from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. A couple topics on offer in English and Spanish: "Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol's Impact on Your Health," "A Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk?" and "How To Cut Down On Your Drinking,"
If you're trying to get fit, USA.gov directs you to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. Those hoping to lose weight will find information from the Weight-control Information Network, an information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. One site from the Federal Citizen Information Center offers "66 ways to save money" on everything from buying a home to arranging a funeral. And anyone "knee deep in debt" will find facts for consumers on the Federal Trade Commission's website.
There's also an entire government website devoted to people who would like to kick the smoking habit: Smokefree.gov. It provides an interactive step-by-step guide to quitting, access to "smoking cessation counselors" at the National Cancer Institute, as well as some disturbing smoking facts for your next trivia night. The state of Kentucky may be disappointed to know it ranks No. 1 in the nation in smoking (with 25.6 percent of its population indulging), while the state of New York has the highest cigarette prices in the country, at $8.97 cents per pack.
Government is, if nothing else, better than just about anyone at corralling data like this on topics as diverse as cancer incidence and nutritional content. We can spend 2011 debating whether or not it's government's job to track all this stuff. But for now, as long as they've already got it, perhaps you'd like to click here if you're interested this coming year in volunteering to help others.