Great Moments in Straight Talk



Marc Ambinder reports from the stump on John McCain’s bold stance against cancer with Lance Armstrong:

McCain developed an antipathy to tobacco lobbyists. He once threw lobbyist Charlie Black out of his Senate office because Black worked for Phillip Morris at that time. (Black now works for McCain as a strategist.)

And beyond Black, has McCain flip-flopped on any issues? Yes:

McCain now opposes sin taxes on cigarettes. He said he worries that Congress would put the additional money into a general revenue pool. “Does anyone here have confidence in Congress?” he asked the crowd. Moderator Paula Zahn was skeptical. Might McCain change his mind if researchers proved that raisng the tobacco tax would help lower smoking rates?

“It would have to be proved. I don ‘t think it’s in the constitution of this Congress.” He hastened to add, “By the way, I’m not for anybody’s taxes.” He later implied that raising the cigarette tax would lead to more smoking as a way of explaining his decision not to support a Democratic attempt to use a tax hike to pay for more children’s health insurance.

So first McCain wants us to believe that he’s so fanatically opposed to making public services more generous, that this is why he’s opposed to raising cigarette taxes. Smoking is bad, says McCain, and it’s important to promote public health by reducing its incidence. But it’s even more important that we starve the government of funds for things like police and courts and infrastructure and health care and education and parks and the military than that we reduce the rate of smoking. Then, perhaps realizing that this is crazy, he turns around and asserts without evidence that higher cigarette taxes increase the rate of smoking.

Now all the evidence suggests that higher taxes lead to less smoking since, after all, what happens when the price of something goes up is that consumption goes down. But if this made-up fact were true, that would make McCain’s position make sense, so why not just pretend it’s true? After all, he’s a straight-talker.

Photo by Flickr user pretamal used under a Creative Commons license