Tobacco & impeachment politics - Ferguson & Nowell

Greg Nowell GN842 at CNSVAX.Albany.Edu
Fri Feb 19 13:12:35 PST 1999

This is a very interesting opportunity for us all. I was first drawn to political science as one who had an amateur interest in the subject from reading Le Monde and Le Monde Diplomatique. It was an article by Tom Ferguson in Le Monde Diplomatique which drew me down to MIT to audit one of his courses, after which I applied and did my Ph.D. (finishing serveral years after Tom left the faculty). He had a big influence on my professional development. No, that's an understatement. There was a coterie of grad students that worshiped him. His article can be found at:

The two big points in the article relate 1) to the hot issue of whether nicotine should be regulated as a drug and 2) the whole Sentelle-Starr-Helms-Faircloth thing, which has been ably presented by Chris Burford on this list and which can be found (as Ferguson indicates) in a Salon Magazine article and elsewhere on the web (including, if memory serves, an article by James Carville at MSNBC, including one by a major woman columnist whose name I forget and another recently by Robert Scheer at the LA Times).

Having gone around the topic on this list, and taken in Doug's objections about the relatively small contributions of tobacco electorally (even though it's in the tens of millions), I decided to widen the field of inquiry. There are several "big" anti-tobacco issues on the plate including nicotine content regulation. The other "big" issue is immunity from further law suits, which to my mind is as big, or bigger, than the nicotine issue.

In my forthcoming treatment of the issue in tomorrow's Barron's, I decided to eliminate the Sentelle-Helms-Faiclothe angle because I only had 1400 words and others had covered it. I focused instead on the struggle for the use of tobacco money in the states as part Republican tax-cut agenda and Democratic efforts to use tobaco money to fund health care--not just for fixing smokers, but to expand coverage to ages 0-18 and who knows, maybe beyond. Because once you have national health care for 0-18 and 65+ it gets harder and harder to argue that you shouldn't cover those in between. This issue, of health care versus tax cuts, is central to state guberatorial strategies and will have a big hand in who controls the states in the coming reapportionment exercise.

In other words, I attempted to answer Doug's objections: the stakes are not merely contributions from the tobacco interests, but a true dogfight over how to use the money to advance agendas between the two parties that are very different. Seen in this way the stakes include not just the $10m or so in campaign contributions but the hundreds of billions in future revenues, the ability of the respective parties to implement state level strategies, and the impact state-level control will have on the future Congress. Those are "big stake" issues.

I don't think there's anything in Tom Ferguson's piece which contradicts mine or vice versa. I think together they give a pretty detailed view of how tobacco politics is impacting the political process. But I should note that Tom & I worked totally independently, and what is interesting is to see how the mentor & the student, working from similar interpretive dispositions, came up with dovetailing but complementary analyses.

A couple of closing points: I had a hair-raising moment (hard for me, since I have little hair) earlier this week when it looked like Barron's might drop the piece, but we did an nth level revision instead. I think it reads pretty well and I am greatly indebted to the editor with whom I worked for eight long weeks on this. If they don't publish it my opinion may be considerably more adverse! As of my latest word, it is going forward, but we'll know tomorrow. As for posting it to the group, I know there are some people on this list who subscribe to the WSJ web site (which also has Barron's), and I would prefer not myself to be associated with the electronic distribution of this piece, in order not to jeopardize future chances with this publication.

-- 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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