Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Butts

When a progressive proposes a new law or new public program to achieve some sort of policy end, what should your response be? Unequivocally your response should be “no.” I don’t mean to make obstinate pigheads out of anyone—my own grandmother had a maxim, “Say yes when you can, no when you have to,” which is a wonderful creed by which to live. In the case of liberal policy, however, you always have to say no. It’s just that simple.

Why? Because liberal policy is always just a stopgap—for more liberal policy. There is never a progressive proposal that will not lead to a doubling down of that same progressive proposal a few years hence. For a perfect example of this phenomenon, take a look at what’s happening in New York City:

Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his support on Wednesday to a series of initiatives to cut tobacco use, proposing to raise the minimum price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City to $13 and vowing to sharply reduce, over time, the number of stores that may sell tobacco products.

Raising the minimum price of a pack to $13, from the current $10.50 minimum, would make New York the most expensive place in the nation to buy cigarettes, city officials said.

The goal, Mr. de Blasio said, is to persuade or coerce 160,000 of the 900,000 New York City residents who smoke to stop doing so by 2020.

“Persuade or coerce” could be the motto of every totalitarian dictatorship on the planet. de Blasio’s administration is not totalitarian, of course—but it certainly exhibits and advances certain totalitarian impulses, chief among them the desire to police and control personal behavior. It greatly offends Bill de Blasio that people in New York City smoke cigarettes. As a result, New York smokers must change. The mayor will not be satisfied until they do.

This is, in the great progressive portfolio of ideas, not all that big of a deal—it’s a cigarette price hike in New York City, which is to say it’s the policing of a disgusting behavior in a city that is, and has been for some time, famous for overregulation and heavy government. But that’s kind of the point: tobacco was already heavily regulated in New York City. Back when I was a smoker I was blown away to learn that my American Spirits cost upwards of $14.00 in most Brooklyn bodegas, nearly 200% more than they did in most of Virginia. New York’s cigarette tax was already the highest in the country prior to de Blasio’s latest efforts. The minimum age for cigarette purchases in New York is 21, three years older than the rest of the country; smoking is prohibited in just about every place but a few street corners in Koreatown; New York schools are required to teach anti-tobacco health education to all students; etc.

If these laws were already on the books, why add another one? This is why: because progressivism never stops. There is a reason that a great many leftists who believed that Obamacare was the greatest piece of legislation in the history of Western civilization are now whining that we need to implement a “Medicare For All” national health care policy; it’s the same reason that so many on the left believe that Title IX allows for men to use women’s locker rooms on college campuses. The one thing is never just the one thing. If progressives try a little social or economic engineering and find the results lacking, you will never, ever—not in a thousand years—hear them utter the phrase, “Well, I guess that didn’t work. We should repeal this law.”

If you are a smoker, it’s worth the time and effort for you to quit; believe me, I know. But you shouldn’t quit at the behest of a finger-wagging big nanny mayor and his team of moral scolds. Sadly, if you live in New York City, that’s probably what’s going to end up happening—unless you’re willing to one day be one of the last smokers in Manhattan, paying $48 for a deck of Marlboros and smoking them in the last raw sewage pipe in which you’re allowed to light up. “That will never happen!” you say. That’s always the case, isn’t it?


  1. David

    Daniel, do you really feel that sort of “black & white” response is appropriate? While I’m not specifically interested in weighing in on de Blasio’s regulatory goals (I was fonder of Bloomberg’s leadership, in spite of his venture in to Big Gulp regulation), in my experience both “liberals” & “conservatives” have promulgated their share of stupid regulations. Do you truly believe that any policy put forth by the “liberal” wing of the body politic should be denied, just on general principle?

    While it may be tempting for “conservatives” to claim ownership of past progressive victories that have been widely accepted, the fact is that many, s.a. the abolition of slavery & women’s suffrage would be more properly considered victories of progressivism.

    The 19th amendment to the Constitution is a good example & you might find it worthwhile to consider the story of TN’s vote to complete the passage of the amendment. It is presented on the same radio program (Radio Lab of 11/07/16: http://www.radiolab.org/story/one-vote/ ). It is quite educational & entertaining. Part of the story surrounding the passage of the 13th amendment was portrayed in the excellent Spielberg movie “Lincoln” & was equally educational about the tensions between “progress” & the “status quo”.

    Let’s face it, it can be argued that in most regards, the movement of human civilization is a movement of playing out the tensions between the forces of the status quo & the forces of change (tempting though it might be, I’m not going to say progress, because it isn’t always). This is a much bigger discussion than cigarette taxes. Perhaps you would be interested in engaging it sometime?

  2. David

    My apologies, I was distracted & did not complete a sentence:

    It is presented on the same radio program which I referenced in a previous comment on April 16 regarding the town of Seneca, NE

  3. David

    To make life a bit easier for you, the discussion (a bit on the lighthearted side) of the passage of the 19th amendment begins at 30:45 of the mp3 recording