2. On tobacco and impeachment.

Greg Nowell GN842 at CNSVAX.Albany.Edu
Fri Dec 18 13:29:03 PST 1998

People, please try to think in terms of grand strategy for a moment. The "problem of the South" has been one of the principal characteristics of the American polity since its inception.

Johnson lit a fire under a south by supporting the civil rights act and the voting rights act of 1964 and 1965. He did so not just because he was a nice guy. He was a master politician and considered the old south a ball-and-chain on his attempt to forge his own version of the New Deal. He favored the development of international capital in the south over the plantation interests. It was a shrewd, bold move with lasting impact.

It also created the modern Republican party, along with abortion, pushing the tobacco and assorted abortion reactionaries and many whites into the Repubs and dooming the solid south.

Clinton's grand political strategy in a sense is brilliant and is a next logical step in the Johnson-initiated strategy of bringing down the plantation south and its industrial dependents. Like Johnson he knew that to defeat the core southern constituency he had to dismantle its funding. Total war against tobacco was a strike at a core economic pillar of the Republican party. They were nuts to begin with, but it has made them hysterical: they have no basis on which to argue to the nation as a whole that the rights of addiction and cancer should be preserved. If this core economic pillar could be successfully attacked, it would provide a basis for some progressive policy (such as health care) while diminishing the power of one of the chief bastions of reaction in the United States. Clinton sent a clear message to the nation on this point in January: health care for children funded by a tax on tobacco. No matter who you are, or what you think of American politics, or Marx, or the working class, or whatever, one thing stands clear: There will be a shortage of progressive, much less socially radical, reform, until the problem of the South has been solved or beaten into submission. And the biggest single obstacle to that process is industrial tobacco.

What we are seeing in fact is not just a miniature replay of the Civil War. It is a sign of how desperate the tobacco party is. When the solid south was democratic, we had occasional pronouncements from the surgeon general. But there wasn't much movement. After Johnson's reforms had the long-term effect of pushing the reactionaries into the Republican party, Democrats were at once weaker geographically but also able to launch, unrestrained, an attack on tobacco (that we did not see through the 1980s and Bush administration). When tobacco was not desperate, all was quiet. Now that they see how politically weak they are, they initiate the modern equivalent of a civil war: they assault the national system of governance for the same reasons that, in 1860, the South seceded. In its heyday, tobacco was unseen and unheard, and didn't have to resort to such brutal devices.

So, I conclude. 1. That the Republican party and the tobacco faction are in fact substantial obstacles to the development of any kind of progressive politics and 2. That whatever his defects on multiple aspects of policy Clinton has in fact pursued this one with exceptional vigor, probably because he knows that, regardless of how one may or may not feel on the other issues, you cannot get anywhere until you take care of this one. 3. That, therefore, this issue has an importance on many dimensions ( health care, minimum wages, unionization, abortion, prayer in the schools) that far exceed the specific consequences of smoking tobacco yourself and that 4. It is sufficient, as a progressive position, to base one's support for Clinton on an appraisal of these facts and to understand that anyone who tries to do what he has done will be subject to the same kind of hysterial attack from the Republican party.

I believe that this is an accurate appraisal of the geographic politics of the United States and that other viewpoints of the President's merits or demerits, based on imperialism, social security, or what have you, suffer from a sesrious pragmatic flaw. What is being fought now is the unfinished business of two centuries of American history.

-- Gregory P. Nowell Associate Professor Department of Political Science, Milne 100 State University of New York 135 Western Ave. Albany, New York 12222

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