Give Me Liberty or Give Me Dirty Hands: Jon Stewart Takes Senator to Task Over Hand Washing

North Carolina’s Thom Tillis confuses common-sense public health measures with needless regulation.
Feb 5, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Ashley Jakubczyk is an editorial intern for and a graduate student at Harvard University. She has also written for Thought Catalog,The Daily Bruin,The Daily Breeze, and Peninsula People magazine.

Forget taxes and gun regulations: Is requiring employees who handle food and beverages to wash their hands after using the restroom the new fight for freedom and liberty?

Thom Tillis, North Carolina's freshman Republican Senator, apparently thinks so. And on Wednesday night’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart had a few things to say about the lawmaker’s opinion (more burdensome regulation from the federal government!) that it isn’t necessary for restaurants to mandate that employees wash their hands after using the restroom.

Tillis made headlines on Monday when he brought the regulation into question, saying that he doesn’t mind if an establishment chooses to opt out of the policy, which is required by the health departments in all 50 states.

“I don’t have any problem,” Tillis said, “as long as they post a sign that says we don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom.”

“You do realize that that’s a regulation too, right?” Stewart pointed out on the show. “That’s not getting rid of a regulation; that just makes you an inconsistent ideologue with a light fecal dusting in your latte.”

The CDC estimates that as much as 97 percent of foodborne illness can be linked to improper food handling in the home or in restaurants. Which makes the senator’s statement—and Stewart’s response—the second debate this week to pit public health against personal choice, following the anti-vaccination dispute fuelled by the measles outbreak that started in December at Disneyland.

But unlike vaccines, which parents can curently opt out of in 20 states, this highly effective public health measure of hand washing is required by states and the federal government alike.