Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

How could someone on the "Left" oppose a ban on owners of private bars to allow persons 21 years of age and older to smoke inside those bars' premises?

   Yesterday afternoon the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana-Indianapolis Division ruled against the plaintiffs in Goodpaster. et al v. City of Indianapolis, a lawsuit brought by bar 11 owners and a customer against the City over the ordinance, effective June 1, 2012, that bans smoking in most bars in Marion County. As many of you know, I am co-counsel for the plaintiffs in that lawsuit. At a later time I will write about the substantive issues of the case. Here, however, I want to address a matter more than a few people have addressed to me: how, as a leftist/liberal, can I oppose such a ban?"

   First, the concepts of "left" and "liberal" are ambiguous, even amorphous, as used in discourse in the United States. Often, a person will accuse someone of being on the "left" or a "liberal" in a pejorative sense, without understanding of the definition of either word. "Left" is derived from the French Revolution of 1789. Members of the National Assembly---the legislative body---was divided into supporters of the king, who sat to the right of the president of the Assembly, and supporters of the Revolution (opponents of the king) who sat to the left of the president of the Assembly. The positions originated, not as a reference to ideology so much as to seating arrangements, but changed. By 1947, sociologist Robert MacIver wrote in "The Web of Government:

    "The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the centre [he's British] that of the middle classes.  Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives., privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged. Defense and attack have met, under democratic conditions, not in the name of class but in the name of principle; but the opposing principles have broadly corresponded to the interests of the different classes."

   Today, in the United States, to be "left" means to embrace principles of FDR's New Deal, social democracy and social libertarianism, a commitment to egalitarianism, support for social policies that favor the working class and multiculturalism. "The contemporary Left usually defines itself as promoting government regulation of business, commerce, and industry; protection of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion; and government intervention behalf of racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities and the working class."  Kazin, "American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation."

   I disagree with His Honor's decision in the Smoking Ban case. I believe that the owner of a business has a right to allow customers to smoke on her or his premises, so long as other customers have notice the establishment allows people to smoke. If those persons choose to enter, those persons have exercised choice---a real buzz term for people on the Left.

   The terms "left" and "Right" have morphed to such an extent as to have little meaning today. My clients, in this case, own working-class bars. Class discrimination against their customers has occurred in the imposition of the ban. Most of their employees smoke.

   Finally, much of the science about so-called second-hand smoke has been debunked. Even if it has not, please consider, if you favor the ban, what you do as you drive an automobile. From the exhaust of your vehicle, you emit into the air the equivalent of 22 million cigarettes a year. I only smoke about a hundred cigars in that same year. I drive a car. However, I walk to the bar.

   I identify with the "Left" but do not believe the term means very much. It polarizes more than it defines. I should not be precluded from my personal and professional opposition to the smoking ban in Indy because of my other political beliefs. Rather, I think I am entitled to my beliefs about the ban because of my other political beliefs.

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Comment by Bill Thompson on March 7, 2013 at 11:54am

I don't know about the left or right, but I favor the smoking ban because employers cannot be permitted to subject their workers to harmful conditions. It would be like coal mine operators running a mine with no safety equipment.

The piece you're missing is that people do not have the right to enter into a contract that causes them physical harm. I can't hire a hit man to have myself killed, for example - that contract is illegal.

The law doesn't prevent the owner of a property from smoking on their premises. If they choose to open and operate a bar that has employees, they can't subject their employees to harm.

I realize it's a fine line. Your way taken to the extreme results in the kind of abhorrent working conditions Upton Sinclair wrote about.

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