So what do you do with Cal Thomas? The man is one of the most widely
respected, widely read, widely controversial columnists around and has
been for years. I just wish I could figure him out.
Regarding tobacco, the venerable conservative columnist says that the
government shouldn’t butt into our lives. “I do not like tobacco,”
confesses Cal in a July 18 column. “I choose not to smoke, inhale, chew
or dip it. But the Florida court decision awarding $144.8 billion in
punitive damages to 500,000 smokers is another example of big government
attempting to save us from ourselves.”
“What ought to bother us as Americans is that, once again, government
has intruded on individual choice.”
I’m with you, Cal. Nobody wants the government butting in with
messianic intentions of statist salvation.
Unless, of course, you’re … Cal Thomas.
What? The anti-buttinski supports butting-in?
Back in March 1996 Cal countered William F. Buckley Jr. and National
Review essayists for their work “declaring the war on drugs lost and
retreating from unsuccessful attempts to stop drug use” by arguing that
laws preventing people from damaging their bodies “have merit.”
Apparently a lucky strike for the cigarette-smoking goose is a bad trip
for the bong-toking gander.
Cal defenders may counter that there is an important distinction
here: drugs are illegal, tobacco isn’t. Been there, done that, bought
the hardcover — to be specific, Thomas’ 1993 book, “The Things That
“The most popular drugs of choice (and the most addictive) are
legal,” explains Cal in part 3 of that book.
“Young people in the sixties responded to the condemnation they
received from adults from trying marijuana, LSD, and other illegal drugs
by pointing to their parents’ liquor cabinet or refrigerated beer, or
the pack of cigarettes in their pockets or purses,” recounts Cal.
“Parents argued, ‘But alcohol and cigarettes are legal. Your drugs are
Apparently excited about the prospect of being hoisted on his own
petard, Cal follows that statement by adding that the parents’ “argument
carried little moral weight. The kids saw drugs as drugs, and they were
“…they were right.”
Catch that? Cal says the government shouldn’t tell you what to do
regarding tobacco, but then says it should regarding drugs, and then
says there’s no real difference between tobacco or dope. “The kids saw
drugs as drugs, and they were right.”
Does that make Cal wrong?
After all, if it’s bad for the government to hound tobacco, why is it
OK to go after drugs?
In his March ’96 column, Cal argues that if humans are “merely a more
complicated evolutionary product than a cabbage,” then a utilitarian
standard should be introduced to see if we should ditch drug laws. He,
by the way, admits that the utilitarian arguments hold a lot of water,
specifically recapping problems with drug-law enforcement and
constitutional violations; that hard-core users are a small percentage
of the population; and that casual users are relatively harmless. But,
alas, for Cal, that’s not good enough — wanting instead a standard more
lasting and eternal than a cost vs. benefit analysis.
If “our bodies are ‘Temples of God,'” he
postulates, “and if laws are for the purpose of
restricting behavior that damages the temples of
those who are not constrained by a higher
power, then anti-drug laws have merit.”
So anti-drug laws are good and justifiable because they prevent
godless people from abusing their bodies. Got it. But what about other
“There are plenty of things not good for us and plenty more whose
manufacturers make questionable assertions in their advertising,” writes
Cal on July 18, defending tobacco companies and their advertisements.
“Dueling ads make claims that one product is superior to a competitor’s.
The choice is left to the consumer.” Unless, apparently, that choice is
Considering Cal’s previous statement about one drug being the same as the next, I think that qualifies as petard shot No. 2.
Ready for No. 3? According to Cal in March ’96, stuff that harms your
body should be restricted. Since in “The Things That Matter Most” Cal
points out that alcohol and tobacco kill more people every year than
“all other drugs combined,” shouldn’t that mean that Cal should actually
be supporting the tobacco suits? Possibly even pushing for
reinstatement of the Volstead Act?
Further, shouldn’t he also be supporting federal drives to regulate
obesity? Fat kills and, according to a Sept. 16, 1999, Knight Ridder
report, some 97 million American adults (50 percent of us) are
putting more pressure on their floor joists than they should. So, if laws for drugs are great, why not laws for gluttony? Why not have laws regulating fat content in food and candy? Laws forcing diet and exercise regimens? Imagine it: no-knock raids for contraband Twinkies; beepers going off in high-school locker rooms because the five-crate shipment of doughnuts just arrived; roaming wire taps looking for any talk of cream-cheese Danishes.
Always wanting to stir up confusion, however, in his July 18 column on the tobacco suit, Cal is worried about the same sorts of extremes. “If the government will now determine whether a company deserves to be punished when people use its legal products, we might reasonably ask where this will stop,” he notes, then specifically cites cases of food, pornography, gambling and booze addictions.
So what’s it going to be, Cal? If we don’t want the feds going after tobacco, booze, porn and chocolate mousse, then we shouldn’t be urging them to go after drugs. By your own argument in ’96, after all, the feds should do just that. Harm is harm and drugs are drugs — type hardly matters. How’d that go again? Oh yes: “Parents argued, ‘But alcohol and cigarettes are legal. Your drugs are illegal.’ The argument carried little moral weight. The kids saw drugs as drugs, and they were right.” If the kids are right, I don’t know how you can be too.
If you can think of any way to sort this out, I’d be very grateful — because, and I think you’d agree with me, consistency is one of the things that matters most.
“Politicians and media hype drug fears” Why pols and the press blow dope out of proportion — self-advancement.
“Fat for thought” We’ve got a war on drugs, why not fatty foods?
“One toke over the line, sweet Jesus?” What does the Bible say Christians should think about drugs? This column attempts an answer — and it isn’t death-by-stoning.
“Witch way on drugs?” The follow-up column to “One toke over the line, sweet Jesus?” exploring the drug-witchcraft connection.
“Yakkity yak, don’t talk smack” A column about the drug war’s recent attacks on free speech.
“The problem with drug raids” A piece about sacking the Bill of Rights to pursue drug offenders.