Right wing US talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has been dismissing the danger of passive smoking. And pinning the blame for all the lies about it firmly on the political left:
Again, the lesson here is that you were lied to by a bunch of leftist busybodies. You were lied to in order to be forced to live your life the way they wanted you to. You were being denied freedom. You were being lied to and manipulated into believing something that wasn’t true so as to impact the way you and everybody else lives, and you were converted into a member of the army of the anti-smoking who would go out and harass anybody else who smoked. You were lied to, to further the lies of a bunch of zealots.
That’s the important point here, and who are these people? They’re leftists.
This set me wondering a bit. There certainly seems to be a lot of truth in what he’s saying, because if anyone supports smokers at all, they mostly seem to come from the political right. In Britain it was Tony Blair’s Labour party which brought in the 2007 smoking ban, with most Conservative MPs voting against it. And in the USA, the one person who personifies antismoking (for me at least) is Hillary Clinton (and maybe Michelle Obama).
But I’m puzzled.
Marx and most of the leftists of the 20th century were nearly all smokers.
The 1945 British Labour government was led by an avid pipe smoker called Clement Attlee. And there were lots of smokers in the Labour party, including people like Tony Benn. So exactly when did the British Labour party become an antismoking party? The old Labour party was the party of the working class, and therefore almost by definition the party of beer and cigarettes.
Equally, I don’t remember John F Kennedy or his brother Robert, or Lyndon Johnson, or any other US Democrat politician of that era being antismoking. So when did the Democrats become antismoking? The old Democrat party, as I remember it, was the party of minorities, of the Civil Rights Movement, that reached out to help the downtrodden. The new Democrat party, as evidenced by NY City Council’s decision last week to ban e-cigs, is more than happy to trample people underfoot, and to create new despised minorities.
I’ve said before that I used to vote Liberal-Democrat in UK elections as regular as clockwork. They were classical liberals and democrats after all: that’s what it said on the tin. I only realised that they weren’t when more or less every single Lib-Dem MP voted enthusiastically for the illiberal and undemocratic UK smoking ban. I’ll never vote for them again in my life.
And outgoing NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was a Republican, although my US friends immediately point out that he’s a RINO: a Republican In Name Only. Does that mean that NY City Council’s Christine Quinn and James Gennaro are DINOs: Democrats In Name Only?
Maybe the answer is that all these political parties have become empty vessels, and in the process been populated by RINOs and DINOs, in a process more akin to metastasizing cancer than healthy self-renewal. As the old party stalwarts died away, they were replaced by people who could mouth the old rallying cries but who actually had very different priorities than their forerunners.
It may be that political parties have a natural lifetime which is about equal to a human lifetime. At the outset, there are a core of true believers in The Cause (whatever it is), and in time they get elected (by fellow believers in the electorate), and they do whatever they set out to do, and then they die off one by one. And The Cause more or less dies with them, because the The Cause is no longer shared by the next generation of voters and politicians.
And so in the UK, the Labour and Conservative and Liberal-Democrat parties are actually dead parties whose current members are trying (largely unsuccessfully) to bring them back to life. And the same is true of Republicans and Democrats in the USA. And maybe everywhere in Europe too. But the voters in all these countries will carry on voting for them like they always did (and like I did) until they suddenly realise that the parties they’re voting for no longer stand for what they thought they did (like I realised). And then their share of the vote collapses. And then nobody knows who to vote for, and all politicians become suspect.
We are at a point of dissolution and reformation. And it’s at this point of time that new Causes appear, with a new set of true believers. And in the UK one of these parties – UKIP – with its anti-European platform may well be one of the parties of the future. And its leader, Nigel Farage, is a man of conviction, like all true believers.
But what of the future? Almost all of today’s politicians have no interest in the smoking bans they have so casually introduced. The result is that there are now millions and millions of excluded and demonised and vilified smokers in more or less every country in the world. They are the new dispossessed. And they have appeared simultaneously everywhere, sharing exactly the same grievances. And it’s only going to be a matter of time before some new Gandhi or Mandela or Martin Luther King emerges to unite them, perhaps with a rallying cry like, “Smokers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your bans.” Whoever manages to do that will have an international following far greater than Marx or Mao ever managed.
I think that something like this is bound to happen. Because, if nothing else, writing this blog has made me realise that Smokervoter in California, and Walt in NYC, and Wiel in the Netherlands and Reinhold in Bavaria all have at least one strongly shared value (and quite possibly a lot more than one). And as a result I have a far more international perspective than I did only five years ago, and see the war on smokers as peculiarly international in ways that almost nothing else is.
So my tip for the future is that the global war on smokers is going to weld smokers into a global political force. The antismokers have sown the wind, and they will reap a whirlwind.
I spent a while today watching the above-mentioned Tony Benn on YouTube, talking about his political beliefs (strongly bottom-up democratic, socialist, and anti-EU). But I looked in vain for any words from him about the UK smoking ban. But after seeing the following video, in which he stands with lit pipe firmly clenched between his teeth, and quotes Shakespeare, I wondered if there was really any need for him to speak about it.