On January 1, 2012, Maine became the first state to ban smoking in all low-income public housing. Twelve thousand poor people faced their New Year’s Day hangover without the solace of a Marlboro to accompany their aspirin and coffee.
This, of course, was good. Just ask the high-minded, right-thinking progressive elites who, it’s safe to say, run Maine’s public housing authority. Progressive elites like to run things. They’d run the government, the media, and the entire U.S. economy if they could. Failing that, public housing authorities will do. The Detroit, San Antonio, and Portland, Oregon, housing authorities already ban smoking. Boston’s housing authority will do so in September. Los Angeles is expected to follow. And it’s no mystery what that highest-minded, most right-thinking, way-progressive elitist Mayor Bloomberg has in mind for New Yorkers.
Smoking is wrong. Progressive elites may be confused about the existence of right and wrong when it comes to wars against genocidal fanatics, market freedom, and the death penalty for mass murderers. But not when it comes to smoking.
Smoking kills smokers, which is about what they deserve for engaging in such lowbrow, wrong-headed, retarded, vulgarian activity, except they get sick first and that drives up the cost of a single-payer national health care system, plus their second-hand smoke is worse yet because it is a, yuck, inhalation hand-me-down from uncouth people who probably haven’t flossed, and it kills progressive elites who don’t even know anyone who smokes while also releasing greenhouse gases and stinking up the cheery curtains that elites hang in public housing group activity areas to brighten the lives of the underprivileged who are confined to concrete tower blocks with six-by-eight-foot living rooms, seven-foot ceilings, plexiglass windows, and sheet-metal doors with a dozen locks on them. Smoking is wrong.
But poor people don’t have a lot of pleasures. Sure, they have more sex than progressive elites. But somehow, for poor people, the sex always ends up in illegitimate children or HIV or some bum of a boyfriend instead of leading to, as it does for elites, a Reichian release of primordial cosmic energy or the wonderful self-fulfillment and midlife reawakening of a new divorce. And, yes, the poor have drugs and alcohol, but these bring them nothing but grief. They’re not at all like the subtle and refined delights of a 300-bottle wine cellar or the therapeutic relief from Zoloft, Lexapro, Elavil, Ambien, Halcion, Xanax, beta blockers, Levitra, and Cialis.
And poor people do have a lot of troubles. Sometimes, when you’ve got a crap job and are going to get laid off from it besides and your crack-head daughter has three kids by four fathers and your oldest son is on the front in Afghanistan and your youngest son can’t decide which drug crew to join and the cable company has cut off service and somebody’s jimmying the twelfth lock on the sheet-metal door, you’d like to sit down on your own damn chair in your own damn kitchen and have a smoke.
Well, forget it. The progressive elites are already charging you $7 for that pack of king-size filter tips, and pretty soon they’re going to add the price of eviction. Because they hate your guts.
The elites who denounce poverty despise the poor. Their every high-minded, right-thinking “poverty program” proves this detestation—from the bulldozing of vibrant tenement communities to the drug law policing policies that send poor kids to prison and rich kids to rehab to the humiliation of food stamps and free school lunches to the loathsome inner-city public schools where those free lunches are slopped onto cafeteria trays.
The federal government has some 50 different “poverty programs.” Nearly half a trillion dollars is spent on them each year. That’s about $11,000 per man, woman, and child under the poverty line, enough to lift each and every one of them out of poverty. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2011 poverty guideline for a family of three: $18,530.) We call them “poverty programs” for a reason. If ordinary people with down-to-earth common sense were spending that half trillion, we’d call them “modest prosperity programs.”
Have progressive elites always hated the poor? Teddy Roosevelt did some rough riding with them. But once Teddy got all high-minded and right-thinking you didn’t see him hanging around with poor people who weren’t cooking or cleaning for him. William Jennings Bryan was in favor of prohibition, the bastard. These days we’ve got Michael Moore. You wouldn’t think he’d hate poor people, having once been one. On the other hand, in dress and deportment, Moore shows every sign of self-loathing. So he’s a hater too.
Why do elites hate the poor? It’s xenophobia. They don’t know any poor people—except their off-the-books Brazilian nanny and illegal immigrant cleaning lady from Upper Revolta who don’t speak English. Modern elites live in bubbles of liberal affluence like Ann Arbor, Brookline, the Upper West Side, Palo Alto, or Chevy Chase. These places used to have impoverished neighborhoods nearby, but the poor people got chased out by young singles living in group homes, hipsters, and urban homesteading gay couples. When elites see a homeless person in the gutter, they assume he’s saving a parking place. And the elites have never been poor themselves. Although there was that time in graduate school, between research grants, when they had to go without sushi for a week.
Elites are irked at the charity they have to give to the poor. Not that elites, personally, give charity to the poor. They get the IRS to do it for them. Which is the way elites like it and why they’re in favor of higher taxes. It’s worth the price not to come into any actual contact and risk getting poverty cooties. But elites are human like the rest of us, and paying higher taxes irks them.
The elite resent the poor because, although poor people have few pleasures and many troubles, they also have a lot of fun. You can see it in their music videos. The elites whine and mope. You can hear it on NPR.
America is a meritocracy. Elites think those poor people should earn their fun, the way Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky. And, being that America is a meritocracy, poor people obviously have no merit or they’d be rich and could afford to join the progressive elite.
But the real reason progressive elites hate poor people is fear. What if the poor quit believing in the progressive elite, quit supporting the progressive elite, quit voting for the progressive elite? The elite would be out on its ear—impeached, recalled, defeated on the ballots, dismissed from the universities, fired at newspapers and television networks, booted out of nonprofit foundations, and chased away from church pulpits.
The high-minded, right-thinking progressive elite would then be poor people, working crap jobs. And what a mess they’d make of it! Imagine elites manning the drive-through window at Burger King, giving customers all-lettuce, all-pickle Whoppers without buns, cheese, or burger patties to combat obesity. Or at the 7-11 making change for a twenty the way the Federal Reserve does. “Wait a minute, I’ve got to go in the back and print some fives.” Or convening a yard care seminar and producing a 200-page white paper on sustainable grass maintenance instead of mowing your lawn. Or panhandling in the manner of the U.S. government, “Hey, Buddy, can you spare $787 billion so’s a guy can get a stimulus package?”
Life would be hell if the high-minded, right-thinking progressive elite wasn’t elite anymore. We’d better quit smoking.
P. J. O’Rourke is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.