If President Obama had had the decency to tell American smokers that he planned to single them out for ANOTHER $1,000+ per year tax increase at the beginning of his second term, would he have been re-elected? It's impossible to know for sure, but my suspicion is it would have been at best a nailbiter rather than a decisive victory. No matter how much one may agree with Obama and the Democrats on the issues, and how much they may have feared Romney and the Republicans, it's getting to the point of being financially impossible for voters who smoke to cast a ballot for the party. Worse yet, it's increasingly clear at this point that the Democratic Party is gonna perceive every election victory as a mandate to further weaponize the tax code against smokers at all levels of government, and it's to the point now of imposing tangible financial harm on both smokers and everybody else in their households....and it's hard to imagine that they're gonna keep going back to the open arms of their abusers when in the voting booth.
This issue has been a hobby horse of mine for a long time even though I'm a lifelong nonsmoker. The very premise of a "sin tax" is ethically monstrous and antithetical to the core of both secular and progressive public policy. And specifically as it applies to smoking, the Democrats are undermining their brand by being agents of intolerance towards this one cherry-picked demographic of villains whom they've decreed to be their moral inferiors. For a decade now, I've contained my fury over the Democratic Party's increasingly shrill position on this issue because I've calculated that, on balance, the opposition is still much worse and the Democrats are still the party better positioned to improve the lives of average Americans, which is the primary reason I'm aligned with progressive politics. But I may have reached a tipping point, and if I have, imagine how those who are actually on the receiving end of this mugging must feel.
When I speak of a "tipping point", I'm referencing the moment where the average voter's perceived upside effect of voting Democratic is reversed. There's plenty of evidence that waves of conservative Yellow Dog Democrats tossed in their Democratic Party affiliation when Clinton signed NAFTA, assessing that their alignment with the party based on economic interests no longer applied, and that the other side at least shared their values on issues such as, for instance, abortion and guns. What I am suggesting is that unlike these conservative Democrats of a generation ago, millions of American smokers will continue to share the values embraced by today's Democratic Party, but will be forced to cut ties with the party based on financial self-preservation. Simply put, the cost of voting Democratic and paying the sin taxes they keep raising will outweigh any financial upside they would traditionally associate with Democratic economic policies.
There will be plenty who read my thesis and be aghast at the prospect of people changing the way they vote based on the cost of cigarettes, but we're talking about thousands and thousands of dollars here for a disproportionately working-class demographic at a time when wages are at an all-time low as a percentage of GDP. And clearly given the size of this community's quit-smoking support group, the habit is highly addictive so quitting is not a realistic option for many of these people, and if they did quit the nation's finances would collapse given how dependent we have allowed ourselves to become on cigarette tax revenue. So Obama and other mostly Democratic cigarette tax increasers are really putting smokers and their families in a desperate situation here.
Pouring salt in the wound is the complete lack of respect. There was no public hearing on the merits of $10-a-pack cigarettes during the campaign just as there wasn't in 2008, and it's despicable that Obama didn't believe smokers deserved the dignity of being informed of his intentions of imposing considerable financial harm upon their families before he sought to enact it into policy. Such is the case throughout the country, including in my home state of Minnesota where Governor Mark Dayton specifically campaigned AGAINST raising the cigarette tax when he ran in 2010, but instead is now on the cusp of imposing the largest single-year increase of cigarette taxes in American history in Minnesota. Furthermore, cynical politicians looking to exploit this path-of-least-resistance revenue pinata used to hide behind the bogus talking point that cigarette taxes are merely a user fee to recoup costs to society imposed by smoking, never mind the fact that smokers are far and away the cheapest demographic for government given their lower life expectancies and reduced consumption of old age public services. But Obama is setting a new precedent here in bypassing the usual talking points of raising cigarette taxes to offset health care costs and is instead proposing raising cigarette taxes to.....pay for universal preschool. It's just disrespect.....bordering on abuse.
And while I'm focusing this diary primarily on smoking because politicians are the most craven and cynical in exploiting that, there's a larger movement here that threatens the Democratic coalition beyond just those who smoke. The most troubling development in the Democratic Party in recent years is its transformation in the "Mike Bloomberg Party", shifting its focus from improving people's lives to micromanaging them. And it seems nearly every left-leaning journalist and MSNBC correspondent is fully onboard every effort to either limit people's freedom to put what they want into their body or to impose financial hardship on them if they do. This demanded forfeiture of personal autonomy is usually defended under the pretense of "public health", and almost always including the fraudulent premise that these choices are breaking public budgets. And the movement is being conducted in bad faith, with the goalposts endlessly moving from one target to the next after every "victory" for loss of personal freedoms. Yesterday's war on smoking--->today's war on sugar-->tomorrow's war on salt, etc. And it's perfectly clear that the movement to control the public's personal choices is only just beginning.
As the global economic landscape has changed, the Democratic Party's ability to shift public policy in a direction that improves the lives of the working-class and middle-class has diminished. Their intentions may mostly be sincere, but if we're being honest with ourselves there is little chance of today's factory worker even matching the standard of living of his father let alone improving upon it. And while they can lay claim to not causing as much harm with their preferred public policy than would Republicans, that defensive message is not a winning one. With that in mind, Democrats run the risk of being defined as the party of the lifestyle scolds, following Mike Bloomberg off a climb and creating a huge opening for Republicans to seize a libertarian-minded younger generation disappointed with the Democrats' performance on economics.
It seems likely that the Republican Party will move in a more libertarian direction in the years ahead, with the social conservatives losing sway. Their economic message will be no less toxic and may in fact become even more so, but opposition to gay marriage and forcing doctors to keep Terri Schiavo alive will be less likely to define the party. If and when that happens, where does the "Kelly Clarkson voter" go, the millennial who first supported Ron Paul and then switched to Obama? One may assume that these may be low-information voters attracted superficially to the caricature of libertarianism without fully understanding its impact on their lives, but if they are low-information voters it actually increases the odds of their being ripe for the picking if Democrats continue their march with Mike Bloomberg, effectively trading places with the Republicans as the party prioritizing paternalism over improving people's lives.
It's obvious at this point that the left needs to learn this lesson the hard way, and as far as I'm concerned we're better if this happens sooner rather than later. There is nothing about the Republican Party that I can get behind so voting for them is not an option, but sitting out the next election and encouraging others who agree with me is an option, preferably in an organized fashion. I referenced Minnesota earlier in the diary and see that as a great place to start. I'm not a smoker and I no longer live in Minnesota so I would be a poor spokesman for the cause, but I really hope to rally an organized effort of "Democratic smokers sitting out the next election" in the state. Such a movement would provide a tangible scare tactic against Democrats in the state legislature who are on the cusp of taking advantage of them, letting them know that their financial assault on smokers can and will be met with an equally fierce response against the future of their political careers. If even a quarter of Democratic voters who smoke played along and sat out the election, the ensuing electoral wipeout will send the message loud and clear that the days of Democrats using the tax code as a moral judgment sledgehammer to kneecap its own people--in this case, some of the most vulnerable--are over. Given my loathing for just about everything the Republicans stand point, I don't make this suggestion lightly, but the trendline of predatory paternalism in the Democrats can't be ignored based on their 2013 policy proposals....and those who value the freedom to do what they choose with their own bodies without Big Brother destroying your life need to kill this beast immediately.