I attended a public hearing tonight that can really only be described as a political shotgun wedding. To the City Council for Natchitoches, Louisiana (That is pronounced how it looks, folks: NACK-UH-TISH. You can see that, right?), the right side of the audience was the groom's family, the left the bride's family. Both sides did not like each other. The right side of the crowd referred to the bride as a slut who seduced the groom into this terrible situation. The bride's family argued that the groom should have been more responsible.
The issue at hand was an ordinance banning smoking from bars and casinos in the city.
As you might be able to guess, the groom's family were the anti-smokers, calling for the fair treatment of all citizens by respecting their right to free air, which I have not been able to find in the Constitution, but to be fair, I always get bored right around number fourteen. The bride's family were the business owners and smaller government advocates, calling for personal responsibility and the exclusion of government from private enterprise. So, where was I?
I was one of the altar servers (hint: I'm Catholic). I sat at the media table, reporting on the hearing. That's probably not a good metaphor, but I don't care.
Now, as a little bit of background, the city council had discussed this ordinance before, and tabled it so they could hold at least one public hearing on the matter. Those against the ordinance showed concerns that it would affect business negatively.
One after another, the anti-smoking crowd, all in support of the Organization for Tobacco Free Living (an organization that has been pushing both municipalities and the state to declare smokers as witches and burn them), spoke about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke. There was even a recent high school graduate who spoke. The message from the graduate and her compatriots was the same: Ignore the dollar signs, help your fellow man. The groom's side of the audience applauded each and every speaker.
Then, a business stood up and showed the room his list (he read from it, too, because the print was too small for us to read from the podium). It was a list of areas that already had smoking prohibitions thanks to state law. Trust me when I saw there's a lot that is covered, and he pointed out the obvious (well, obvious to us. You guys don't live here or know the business environment): the ordinance would only affect three bars and two casinos. 99.9% of the businesses in the city already had smoking prohibitions. His speech was also followed up by applause, this time from the bride's side of the audience.
Then, I took off whatever altar server's robes are called (I'm not a good Catholic), shed my(figurative) media hat, and walked over to the podium. I could feel every eye in the room turn to me, boring holes into me. The crowd already knew what side I was on, I spoke at the last meeting, having called for an economic impact study for the ordinance's affect on local business. The anti-smoking crowd's eyes drilled into my backside like some sort of optical "Deliverance," and they wanted me to squeal like a piggy.
Instead, I explained how this ordinance, at its most basic level, is about the expansion of government and the abdication of personal responsibility. It is about fairness, sure, but for everyone? Not at all. If we were being fair to everyone, we'd leave a spot for the smokers to go out and enjoy an evening without being persecuted. No, this ordinance hinders one's personal responsibility because it is government's job, according to the piece of paper that would become law, to tell us how to be healthy. But I don't believe in the government trying to regulate what private enterprise does, because we start down the dreaded slippery slope. What prevents government from re-entering the private home, saying we shouldn't smoke because kids could be affected (even if the kids are the reason you took up smoking, because I've got a three month old and I'm considering it). What keeps a social worker from coming to take a kid away because his or her parent has a pack-a-day habit?
Who, exactly, goes to a bar or casino with the expectation of healthy behavior? Last I checked, alcohol isn't a healthy substance (in fact, I think it's been known to kill people!). Casinos? You are burning through tons of money for the minuscule chance of winning it back. If that isn't borderline psychotic behavior, I don't know what is.
The next argument comes in two parts. Part one complains that the bar and casino workers aren't treated fairly because they have to endure the smoke, and to that I say "Quit." My response usually brings up part two of the argument, which is the accusation that those who work at these establishments, who apparently have expectations of healthy and friendly work environments, can't work anywhere else. This too is a lie, I would counter, and to back up my counter, I check three websites:
www.indeed.com - 144
www.careerbuilder.com - 476
www.monster.com - 98
The number you see out to the side of those websites is the number of job postings in the Natchitoches area. I realize these workers might not be qualified to work at all of them, but there are multiple postings for restaurants and stores that only ask that you be sixteen years old or older and have a high school diploma or GED. So, don't tell me that there are no jobs for these workers. IF they make that complaint, they're just being lazy.
Yes, smoking is awful and disgusting but if I catch my friends doing it, I just ask they don't do it in my car, my house or near my kid, and if it really bothered me that they did it, I'd not associate with them. I'd make the choice not to hang out with them. I wouldn't ask the government to bedazzle a big, scarlet "T" on their chests and shun them for years.
This is a nationwide problem, though. We are constantly giving over our power to decide things for ourselves, to determine our own paths, to live a truly free life. And for what? Some big nanny state to tell us what doctor to go to, what to eat and what to wear (God help you if you wear white after Labor Day)? What I speak out against at the local level is what we need more people to speak out against at the national level. We have a president who doesn't believe in a Do-It-Yourself state. He believes in the government doing it for you.
Are you truly free with a government like that?