No Congratulations: Liberals Move to Ban Balloons

You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we've got
Set them free at the break of dawn
'til one by one, they were gone...

According to German pop singer Nena, who sang us this story back in 1983, the fanciful release of 99 red balloons inadvertently triggered global thermonuclear war.  It was a cute antiwar song, a Euro-pop warning about an overeager "war machine" and the Bomb.  But now it's the balloons we have to worry about:

The joyous celebration of releasing balloons into the air has long bothered environmentalists, who say the pieces that fall back to earth can be deadly to seabirds and turtles that eat them.  So as companies vow to banish plastic straws, there are signs balloons will be among the products to get more scrutiny, even though they're a very small part of environmental pollution.

Accordingly, campaigns are afoot to discourage balloon releases at weddings, some states have passed laws restricting them, Clemson University ended its pre-game tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons before games, and so far at least one town in Rhode Island has banned the sale of all balloons out of concern for marine life.  The town warden suggests balloon alternatives, like "posters, piñatas and decorated paper."  But can you tie a piñata into a giraffe? 

There's some pushback from the Balloon Council, which works to "uphold the integrity of the professional balloon community" with safe handling standards like "never releasing them into the air, and ensuring the strings have a weight tied to them so the balloons don't accidentally float away."  The Council's executive director, Lorna O'Hara, while she won't dispute "that marine creatures might mistake balloons for jellyfish and eat them," she's not so sure "balloons are necessarily causing their deaths."

Let me make clear at the outset that I'm on the side of the sea turtles, the soaring birds, and any other creature that might be harmed in this way, so I'm inclined to err on the side of the turtles.  There's at least some science to back this up.  But that's no guarantee that the cost-benefit ratio works out, like the way it never does with climate change.  If it must be, okay; neither plastic straws nor balloons make up much of my life. 

All the same, there's something just not right about these hasty adoptions of bans on everyday things.  What's the hurry?  It took 120 years for the American temperance movement to get the 18th Amendment, and that still turned out to be a terrible idea.  In just the past few weeks, we've heard about the rapid spread of bans on plastic straws; on balloons; on saying, "Hey, guys" to groups that include women; on "meatless" hamburgers; on crab dinners in Baltimore.  Speaking of Prohibition, expect a second try soon based on last week's study that drinking alcohol is 100% bad for you.

My real issue is that once the left identifies a problem, its favorite solution is a ban.  With more or less success, the left in recent times has banned, or would love to ban, liquor, guns, national borders, plastic bags, cigarette advertising, DDT, flirting, binary pronouns, "hate speech," prayers at graduation, team logos, Christmas hymns, wearing fur, words like "manhole," Nativity scenes, nuclear power plants, coal, Civil War statues, petroleum, unwanted babies, toilets that flush, incandescent light bulbs, and Roseanne Barr.  As with kids who get overactive from too much sugar (at least, until that's banned), if someone doesn't shut off the supply of things to forbid, they'll just get more out of control. 

You'll notice that it never ends with just the ban itself.  Even images and other references to the condemned object have to be banished, too, as if the very idea of the thing must be erased.  One group that's worried about balloons, Clean Virginia Waterways, "notes the difficulty of changing a social norm and that even typing 'congrats' in a Facebook post results in an animation of balloons."  And?  Will animated sea turtles try to eat them? 

That's the thing that gets me.  It's not enough that we'd be willing to give up a good thing in the interest of some greater good.  For some reason, the offensive object always has to be redefined as malum in se, evil in itself.  It's no longer enough that the Union won the Civil War and both slavery and the Confederacy went extinct 153 years ago; it's now necessary "to erase symbols of the pro-slavery Civil War South" by tearing down Confederate statues.  We still have the Second Amendment, but liberals fall asleep to dream about outlawing firearms, and the anticipatory sanitizing is well underway in schools, such that a six-year-old gets suspended for pointing his finger like a gun, or an eighth-grader for doodling an armed stick man.

Nor is it bad enough that balloons poison sea turtles and ensnare sea fowl with their strings and ribbons, but Clean Virginia Waterways has to pile on the additional charge that they "often use helium, a non-renewable resource."  The damn things are just bad! 

Dangerous, warns Emma Tongue of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, despite their "'light and whimsical' image."  That's exactly how Nena and her boyfriend got sucked in!

The day is coming when kids' birthday invitations will not only be scrubbed of all balloon imagery, but bear the somber promise that Liam's theme party will be "balloon free."  The inevitable next phase comes when little tykes who witness balloons at other kids' parties run home to squeal about the naughty things they saw at their classmate's house, in turn setting off woke parent-to-unfit parent phone calls to explain a world without seabirds.

Along with plagues, mass migrations, war, volcanic activity, and university education, this is exactly the sort of thing that causes cultures over time to go extinct – meanwhile making life, bit by bit (or ban by ban) less worth living. 

By the time of the party conventions in 2020, this anti-balloon thing should be well along, which poses a real image problem if either side goes ahead with the traditional nomination speech balloon drop.  The Republicans will be called tone-deaf animal-haters for six months on CNN, and the Democrats will just be called hypocrites once or twice before the media drop it.  Most likely, the Democrats will have adopted an anti-balloon plank to please their base and will look for alternative things to drop – maybe one of those suggested by the Rhode Island city warden, like bits of colored paper or piñatas.  Or maybe they could look at things from a sea turtle's point of view, and just drop jellyfish.

T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan.  You can email him at

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