At first glance, you might think defenders of individual liberty might applaud Congressional Republicans for this week's rejection of the comprehensive tobacco settlement. The bipartisan legislation would have punished individual smokers with astronomical taxes aimed at purifying them of their personal sin. With this draft of legislation dead, surely the world will be a freer place. Right?
Fearing the wrath of a vehemently anti-tobacco public, the Republican leadership has decided to cover its election year tracks by resuscitating the favorite boogeyman from the 1980s. Remember the war on drugs? That budget-busting, corruption-brewing affront to personal liberty may be back if Speaker Gingrich and his gang have their way. Years of declining illegal drug use has led the virtual elimination of the issue from political discussion. That's about to change. Although drug use statistics haven't worsened, the Republicans' political position has.
Republicans think that a political campaign featuring teenage girls smoking marijuana will frighten the mommy electorate as much as one focused on tobacco. They may be right. But while this strategy may help save smokers from the wrath of the anti-tobacco lobby, it promises to do far more damage to the individual liberty of Americans as a whole. The tactics of the last round in the war on drugs resulted in a severe battering of the U.S. Bill of Rights. Given modern voters' appetite for harsh action on a silly issue like tobacco, truly terrifying rights abuses could soon be upon us with a new war on drugs.