OK, Sometimes the Conservatives Are Right
As an outspoken and unapologetic moderate, I’ve grown accustomed to taking flak from both trenches on the political battlefield. Even my fellow moderates are quick to offer corrective advice whenever I appear to be tilting slightly toward one camp or the other.
Ever since the presidency of Bush II and the financial collapse of 2008, I confess that I’ve directed a little more animosity toward the right than the left. Why? I don’t believe in government of the plutocracy, by the plutocracy, for the plutocracy. I voted for Obama. I can no longer listen to Sean Hannity without rolling my eyes in disbelief. (At least Rush Limbaugh is funny.) I harbor no sympathies for American exceptionalists, gun nuts, neocon interventionists, birthers or apologists for unregulated Darwinian capitalism. So sue me.
But sometimes the conservatives are right — and I’m not just referring to their location on the political spectrum. Let me tell you about a recent news story that spoke to my inner righty.
Smoking Banned on the Sidewalks of Great Neck, NY. I’ve never been a cigarette smoker; even as a kid I dismissed smoking as an unsavory and vaguely disreputable habit. In the old days, I sat through numerous business meetings with stinging eyes as the noxious blue-gray smoke swirled around the room.
But I smarted even more when I saw the news that the village trustees of Great Neck, NY, voted to ban smoking in specified outdoor locations. It’s the kind of mindboggling law that only a left-leaning control freak could love: no smoking on sidewalks along or within 125 feet of Middle Neck Road, the main shopping street. No smoking in Village Green Park. No smoking at benches in municipal parking lots with access to Middle Neck Road and within 10 feet around them.
Violators will be slapped with a fine of up to $1000 or 15 days in jail. But what if someone is caught smoking 124 feet from Middle Neck Road or nine feet from a parking lot bench? What if I happen to be traveling through Great Neck and, blissfully ignorant of the local ordinance, decide to light up on a forbidden sidewalk? Even if I were a native Great Necker, how could the village elders reasonably expect me to memorize such a tangle of regulations over my personal habits?
I can understand the motivation behind the law — a lot of nonsmokers don’t care to breathe those second-hand fumes. But surely the sky is vast enough to accommodate a swirl of cigarette smoke without impairing the health and well-being of local bystanders. Think of what we inhale when we drive behind a bus.
When the government — even the government of a single upscale Long Island community — escalates its restrictions on mundane personal habits, we have to be concerned. Will the government start regulating soda, donuts and other wanton contributors to obesity? San Francisco has already banned high-fat Happy Meals… how much more parental guidance do we need from our elected officials? Will we be forced to jog? Shouldn’t there be a reasonable, inviolable boundary between government authority and personal rights?
One of the endemic vices of the elite left is the assumption that the majority of Americans are clueless troglodytes who need to be rescued from their unenlightened ways. Granted, sometimes I have to agree that the elite meddlers aren’t far off base… but it’s their casual presumption of superior authority that speaks to my inner right-winger.
The governments of Stalin’s U.S.S.R., Mao’s China and Pol Pot’s Cambodia also presumed to know what was best for their citizens… and millions of those citizens were terminally inconvenienced if they didn’t get with the program. A public smoking ordinance in Great Neck, NY, is trivial by comparison — a mere puff of smoke, if you will — but I still don’t like the direction it represents.
Smoking is addictive, unhealthful and often fatal — to the smoker. But nobody’s health or happiness is seriously threatened by an occasional plume of wayward smoke accidentally inhaled in an outdoor setting. Come on, people — we’re the descendants of pioneers, freedom fighters and scrappy immigrants. Let’s not go soft.