By David Keene - 03/12/07 07:15 PM EDT
When it was reported last week that House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) is now frequenting the Democratic National Club over on Ivy Street (which is, as it turns out, one of the very few places in the new Washington where the inveterate smoker can light up), I took notice because, well, sometimes little things can tell you a lot about people and the way they look at the world.
As everyone who lives, works or spends much time in the District knows, a citywide anti-smoking ordinance passed the D.C. City Council last year and went into effect on Jan. 2 of this year. It is one of the most comprehensive such bans in the nation, applying even to private clubs such as the Republican Capitol Hill Club. The ordinance was hotly debated before it passed. Various attempts at compromise failed and anti-smokers and smokers alike held their collective breath as it went to Congress, which has the last word on such things in the Federal City.
Smokers appealed to friends on the Hill, as they had to members of the City Council, to be reasonable, so that at least those who had joined private clubs so that they might there find sanctuary to enjoy a drink and a cigar might be allowed to continue puffing away in private. The pleas fell on deaf ears, however, and today those who enjoy an occasional pipe or cigar are with few exceptions forced to repair to park benches and sidewalks.
The ban did not apply to Congress, of course, as our elected officials have always seen fit to exempt themselves from the rules, regulations and silliness they impose on the rest of us, but the recapture of the House by Democrats last fall put politically correct friends of the anti-smokers in charge of at least one House with the power to restrict, if not eliminate, smoking on the Hill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) struck quickly, banning smoking in the Speaker’s Lounge in spite of the fact that many members of her new majority could be found there puffing away any time the House was in session.
They crept away in silence and repaired, like their GOP counterparts, to their private offices to light up — though at least one politically correct freshman protested even this on the grounds that the smoke from an adjoining member’s office had somehow, through osmosis or magic, found its noxious way through the foot-thick masonry separating them.
It is fair to say that most of those who make up the core of the anti-smoking lobby are ideological liberals and partisan Democrats. Their justification for most smoking bans has been their innate concern for everyone’s health, and their argument for extending such bans to private establishments has been that those who work in establishments that tolerate smoking are put at risk by their employment there.
Given that rationale, I found it interesting that these very same liberal Democrats who think it reasonable to enjoin the rest of us from lighting up in restaurants and private clubs had far less concern for the health and well-being of those who choose to work at the Democratic National Club, which, it now transpires, is the one private club in the District that has apparently decided simply to defy the ban.
This, I would submit, says a lot about the arrogance of a party that wants to run everyone else’s lives, but wants its elite free of the regulations it imposes on the rest of us “for our own good.”
The fact that the Republican leader, who is a smoker, chose not to fight the ban either in Congress or by urging his fellow board members to defy it — as did their Democratic counterparts — says perhaps more than one might want to know about him, his party and the way Republicans are adjusting to life in the minority.
There was a time when House Republicans knew their place. Their leader, a nice enough fellow from the Midwest, played golf with the Democratic Speaker and asked politely for favors for himself and his fellow Republicans in exchange for the unspoken promise that their opposition to Democratic rule would be, well, polite. It worked in the sense that everyone knew their place and lived comfortably.
Things changed in 1994, but those who remember the good old days must sense that this new generation of Republicans, under the leadership of another pleasant Midwesterner who enjoys golf as well as smoking, is ready to take us back to the future, where everyone gets along … and knows his or her place.
Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm (www.carmengrouplobbying.com).