Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Smoke This, Republicans

     For the first time in I don't know how long, I read an article today describing how some Democrats made a politically smart move. For years, Republicans have been experts at dividing Democrats along their fault lines, separating the social liberals from the economic liberals, tugging at the Blacks, the Jews, the Hispanics. Democrats have been silent. Worse than silent - they have become petulant whiners complaining how Republicans don't play fair and acting incredibly nerdy, pushing up their wire-rimmed glasses and saying how sure, GW Bush is cool, but he doesn't really understand budget deficits like they do.
     Finally, Democrats in one of the reddest of red states, Georgia, found an issue that would divide the Republicans along their fault lines. Democrats and pundits have for years prattled on about how fragile the Grand Old Party was, a mix and muddle of various special interests masterfully glued together by political genius. Some of the biggest questions were asked after the 2004 election, like Why do the lower middle class vote against their own economic interests? The answer is, of course, that the Democrats were divided and never provided a compelling alternative. "Sure you want to protect Social Security, money that I won't see for 20 years, but I don't even save for my kids' college or pay down my credit card debt. What makes you think I'm going to start giving a rat's ass about my future now? Besides, GW says he'll keep them gays from marrying and that's a good thing."
     Anyway, the news here is the new Georgia Anti-Smoking Bill (free, but login required). Text of bill For those of you wondering (Ben, I'm sure you've hazarded a guess), I'm for the bill. But that's not the focus of this post. The focus here is the fact that for the first time, the moral wing and the libertarian/business wings of the Republican party are clashing. See, businesses don't care if you ban gay marriage. Hey, it actually would save them money, seeing as they wouldn't have to provide spousal benefits and all. Businesses love the idea of banning drugs, for obvious productivity reasons, and abortion isn't even on their radar. But smoking? For years, the hospitality industry has hung its hat on smoking and drinking - the two largest profit centers.
     The moralists, of course, don't love smoking, although many don't really mind it. However, they've opened the door to government intervention with their bans on sex toys (for novelty only), alcohol on Sunday, sodomy and premarital sex, and other such intrusions. The sponsor of this bill is Republican State Senator Don Thomas of Dalton. He's a doctor - a family practitioner and a smoking ban has become somewhat of a crusade for him.
     I'm pretty sure the ban will pass. If not now, soon. If not in its current form, in some similar fashion. And Democrats, which have been slow to learn anything, should learn something from this. Maybe it's not as important as universal health care or the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, but you have to choose your battles wisely. And take one step at a time.


Mike said...

My wife and I had a debate the other day over smoking bans. Philadelphia just passed a smoking ban. At first I was completely against it. I always come down on the side of government butting out of our lives (no pun intended). But my wife pointed out that government has the responsibility to provide for our safety. And I decided she is right. It's like speed limit laws. The government could butt out and not institute speed limits on the highways, but that would be dangerous and people would get hurt. So it is a necessary law. Second hand smoke is dangerous, and innocent people shouldn't have to breathe it. So now I'm in favor of smoking bans.

But I think you're blowing this out of proportion if you say this is going to tear apart the republican party. Both parties are collections of special interests held together with a series of loose understandings. The difference is the Republican party allows debate right now and the democratic party doesn't. Look at the RNC last year. Arnold and Rudi both spoke and both are moderately pro-choice. John McCain frequently bashes Dubbya and he was allowed to speak. Condi Rice and Tom Ridge and both considered moderately pro-choice. The democrats didn't allow one pro-life speaker. In fact, anyone in the democratic party who comes out pro-life commits political suicide. By allowing debate within the party the Republicans are making a home for moderate people. That is why the dems are on such a losing streak.

And btw, your quote that sums up the psyche of the "lower middle class" voter is pretty demeaning and doesn't really help your argument.

Ben said...

I have a problem with smoking bans. If I want to open a bar, I should be able to smoke in it, and if people don't like it, they don't have to eat there or work there. I could see some sort of system where you have to pay for a "smoking license" or something similar, but I just don't understand why the government should be able to dictate how I run my business. If cigarettes were illegal, that would be different, but they aren't.

And Scott, perhaps the reason the lower middle class "votes against their economic interest" is because they are smarter than you and paid attention in history class when they saw time and time again throughout human history that the most successful economies were the freest ones, where people were free to beocme rich if they wanted to. A middle class person in the US has more potential to move up to rich than at any other time in history, more than in any society in history, and those middle class people actually believe that if they work hard, they can be rich. And when they are, they don't want to be fuckled over by taxes and socialistic welfare. They know their best chance of becoming upper class is a free economy, without the restraints that you see as in their interests, and they see as the government intruding in their bank account.

Mike is right, Scott has shown his contempt for the middle class, and for anyone who doesn't agree with him. That's a major probelm with the Democratic party. All their elitist negative messages serve to insult peoples' intelligence, and drive them away. Calling me dumb for not agreeing is not going to make me change my mind, but it sure will make me vote for the other guy.

Mike said...

Smoking license? No No No!
I have a real problem with this type of legislation. If Congress wants to ban smoking, ban smoking. Go ahead and try. The problem is they know they don't have enough votes to do that and the political backlash would be too great. So what does Congress do? Make smoking outrageously expensive. Tax it to death. Doesn't anyone remember why we started this country in the first place? Because the King was taxing us to death!
I'm in favor of free markets which means the government has to butt out and not tax their morals on us.

Ben said...

Fine, no tax. But don't tell me how to run my business. If I want to put a sign on the door that says "Smokers Welcome, Non-Smokers implicitly give up their right to sue by entering," then I should be able to.

Mike said...

Yeah, I can agree with that. If you make it perfectly clear that by entering you will be breathing second hand smoke, then I'm all for it.

ORF said...

On principle, I was against Bloomberg's smoking ban in NYC although I am not a smoker myself. We need a mayor, not a nanny. However, it's pretty fucking awesome not to have to come home and wash my hair before going to bed. I can actually breathe in bars now. It definitely has it's upsides and people adjusted pretty quickly.

I agree it should perhaps be like having a liquor license, tho, where it's the choice of the bar owner. The argument made her was that it was a "healthy work environment" thing and it was enacted for the sake of all the bartenders and wait staff. Then the patrons. Whatever...

I am thoroughly suprised to see this being discussed in Georgia and will be positively astounded if it creeps up to North Carolina (state of my birth), home to the tobacco industry. Packs of cigarettes are still $2.50 down there, not $8.50 like here.

Ben, I think you're oversimplifying the idea that people in a lower economic class are "pleased" to be living in America because they have the chance to move up. I think they're too busy trying to hold down their three jobs to feed their kids and pay their bills to really pick up a paper and make an educated decision about Socialism over laissez-faire capitalism. That is, assuming they even had the educational opportunities that would have taught them those words in the first place. I agree that the chance for upward mobility in this country is optimal compared to many places, but it has a long way to go, especially if meritocracy has anything to say about it.

Finally, I'd like to weigh in on your inference that Scott is suggesting you and Mike are dumb for stating contrary opinions to his. While I do agree this is a flaw in the Democratic line of thinking, I do NOT think Scott is making that point. I also really welcome the chance to read both of your and Mike's opinions because I can count on one finger the number of REAL LIVE REPUBLICANS I know in this town and she is now my good friend's ex-girlfriend, so I pretty much don't know anyone. As a result, most of what I get is information about how red, red, red you crazy Republicans are and it can be difficult to keep things in perspective with regards to the idea that there ARE actually people worth listening to in the party, such as Senator McCain, whom I happen to regard rather highly. Debate is a very healthy thing, but it's really fucking hard to debate the whole God is Great argument that I feel like gets perpetuated by most Republicans in control. If I were a Republican, that would be what might chase me into the Democratic party.

By the way, sorry for the dissertations on my last two you might have guessed I am a) bored at work and b)verbose. thx for listening!

sojourning crow said...

but what is truth...if you follow me...

Mike said...


I appreciate your honesty and candor. Rest assured, there are republicans in your town. We're not always easy to spot, but we're there. We lurk in the shadows laughing at the poor. In the evenings we meet in the church basement to discuss God, guns, and gays. We make up memos and give them to networks and later expose them as lies to hurt the democrats. We come up with ways to rig voting machines and keep blacks from voting. We count our money and plot ways to steal more from poor saps like you. We are evil.
Seriously though, we're not any of that stuff. I just believe in limited government. I don't think it's fair that one out of every three dollars I earn should go to Uncle Sam. When I see power taken from me, I get concerned. I don't like taxes, I don't like government programs, and I don't like being told what to do and how to behave. It just turns out the republican party is more in line with my ideals.

Ben said...

I wasn't trying to say that Scott thought I was dumb for disagreeing with him. I was trying to say that Scott is implying that lower middle class people are dumb because they vote against their economic interests. I don't think they are dumb, nor voting against their economic interests.

No immigrant ever came to the US because we have such a great social security program. They come here because here they have the opportunity to succeed, something that is impossible in many countries due to verious reguilations, taxations, and general restraints on economic mobility.

Mike said...

It's the classical liberal mindset that people's votes can be bought with money. Promise them lots of government programs and a booming economy and they will vote for you. People are smarter than that. They know the president doesn't have that much control over the economy. The economy cycles. That's capitalism. Despite all the talk about this being the worst economy since Herbert Hoover, the fact is things are pretty good here. Unemployment hovers around 5%. If you think that's bad, as Germany and France. Their unemployment is usually in double digits. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. The average American hears all the negative talk, but he looks around at his own situation and says, "You know what? I have a house, I have a job, I have a pretty nice car. I'm saving for retirement. Things aren't that bad for me." So they turn their attention to other issues like foreign policy, and taxes, and abortion, and sadly to say, which guy they "like" better. It's a sad commentary, but more people voted for Dubbya because they would rather sit and drink a beer with him in Texas than sip wine with Kerry on Martha's Vineyard.

Sylvana said...

If I seemed a little cranky the other night that I posted, I was. I still stand by my comments, but didn't mean them to come out quite so mischievously fiendish. Too tired and hopped up on caffeine to control the sass.
Anyway, I agree with smoking bans for many of the same reasons that have already been discussed. I think that it just isn't something that you can disclaimer. Plus, for many people, bartending/waitering/waitressing is the only job option they really have that will pay their bills. If smoking isn't banned for every one of these businesses, then just about every one will allow it because they believe that they have to in order to be competetive. This really doesn't give the workers in this industry a choice as far as working conditions go. Smoking is the #1 killer in the US. This puts a burden on the whole society monetarily through increased insurance and payments to medical programs. The health problems that smoking creates are preventable though, and as has been shown in other communities that have implemented them- smoking bans will not crush the economy or even individual businesses, especially if they are across the board, no acceptions.