No-smoking sign is no Star of David

April 25, 2012


John Raese is feeling persecuted.

Raese, a West Virginia businessman running for the Senate, declared in a recent speech that he doesn’t want the government telling him what to do “because I’m an American.” Specifically, he lamented that he is required to place a “huge sticker” on his buildings declaring them smoke-free environments.

“Remember Hitler used to put Star of David on everybody’s lapel, remember that? Same thing,” he said.


For the record, the Nazis did not require the Star of David on “everybody’s” lapel. Only Jews were forced to sew the symbol on their clothing under penalty of being fined, imprisoned or shot. But maybe we should just be grateful Raese did not compare smoker’s lounges to concentration camps — or some tobacco junkie hiding in the toilet to sneak a smoke to Anne Frank, hiding out for her life.

Predictably, Raese has come under fire from Jewish groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has refused to back down. “I’m not apologizing to anybody or any organization,” he told the Charleston Daily Mail. He went on to say, “I am not going to be intimidated by a bunch of bull__.”

Requiring him to put up no-smoking signs, is, he reiterated, “very similar” to requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. “It might be smoking today, it might be Big Macs tomorrow, then Coca-Colas the next day, then Jack Daniel’s, then we’re in trouble.”

Yes, he actually said that. And one can’t help but recall the famous thing Martin Niemoller said about the Holocaust: “First they came for the Big Macs, and I did not speak out — because I did not eat at McDonald’s.

“Then they came for the Coca-Colas, and I did not speak out — because I prefer Pepsi.

“Then they came for the Jack Daniel’s and I did not speak out — because I was not a whiskey drinker.

“Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

OK, so that’s not quite what Niemoller said. But does it really matter? Does anyone care? Do the great words, noble precepts and tragic occurrences of yesterday still matter in a nation where reverence is something some of us can no longer even pretend to feel?

Raese made his asinine remark in furtherance of his belief in small government. It is an ideology whose adherents habitually squander whatever appeal it might otherwise hold through extremist statements such as these. Surely reasonable people can debate the proper size and role of government. But one begins to believe people like Raese seek not small government, but no government. And that, putting it mildly, is bizarre.

Worse, he compounds the sin by committing this act of violence against memory, this vandalism of simple respect. At one fell swoop, he manages to illustrate both American political extremism and American incapacity of reverence.

He is hardly unique. The Nazis have become the go-to image of political demonization. We’ve seen Barack Obama as Hitler and George W. Bush as Hitler. But anyone who understands what happened when Hitler was Hitler cannot help but decry such a monumental trivialization of atrocity. The crimes of the Nazi regime were singular, unprecedented in their sheer awfulness. Because of this, thoughtful observers draw Nazi parallels carefully and rarely if at all. And then there are the John Raeses of the world.

For what it’s worth, the experience of a Jew in the Holocaust and a smoker in America are comparable in only one regard: the death toll. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews in 12 years. Cigarettes kill that many Americans every 13 and a half. Of course, a smoker has a choice. A Jew had none.

And the idea of equating the two is ridiculous, offensive and unworthy of serious people. That should go without saying.

The key word there being, “should.”

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Pitts is clearly running out of material.

pace 6 years ago

So Cato, you agree with John Raese's argument?

Flap Doodle 6 years ago

Did the current resident of 1600 Penn Ave. ever manage to break his tobacco addiction?

Maddy Griffin 6 years ago

Yep. He'sbeen "smokeless" for almosta year now.

XEPCT 6 years ago

because the tribe(s) that owns the casino(s) has sovereignty which supercedes the state in many instances.

jaywalker 6 years ago

Not horrible, but poorly written and thin in some areas. Raese was moronic for stating such tripe,no doubt. But instead of a whole column on two simpleton statements, perhaps expanding the scope of the one issue that should be addressed (the ridiculously reflexive dive into Godwin-ism w/ virtually any topic) might have made a more worthy use of space. Raese's comments should have been relegated to examples rather than the focus, JMO.

pace 6 years ago

I don't agree that John Raese's point was valid. It really doesn't seem a valid comparison to me. You have a right to your view that no smoking areas are like the holocaust. I think it is such a bad analogy you should consider going to counseling for agreeing with Rease's point. As a ex smoker, I feel free to say I think their should be smoking area's, especially think the idea that old folk homes should have protected smoking ares from weather. I am against drinking booze too, but I think the temperance movement went too far with prohibition. . I think pot should be decriminalized. But no, John Raese seems not awkward but wrong, to claim no smoking is the same as the holocaust. It is worth a column that it disrespected the people affected. John Raese is riding on the dime of their deaths and torture, John Raese is a lying bum who

CyZane 6 years ago

In the politically correct world we live, Raese's words were in fact awkwardly expressed but close to the truth nevertheless. What lacked in substance were the reasons for his comparison. It is not the mandated No Smoking signs that matter, it is not that an adult can't exercise a legal choice in a privately owned venue, it is not that you can't smoke in parks and beaches in some parts of the continent, no, all these regulations, albeit annoying can be passed off as nannying.

Where it becomes comparable to Nazism, is when in the name of a ''healthy & clean society'' absurd notions such as third hand smoke are invented, when people are discriminated from jobs, healthcare, housing, when sick and dying people are deprived of their last cigarette or are kicked out of the hospital, their old age and psychiatric homes to the curb to smoke in all weather, when you have rabid anti-smoker groups lobbying to remove custodial, foster and adoption privileges to people who smoke, when the CDC an allegedly respectable government agency airs gory ugly commercials to scare people into compliance and when worldwide health authorities such as the WHO keep pushing the goal posts further and further.

Does Mr. Pitts want it to go as far as the holocaust before he recognizes that something is terribly wrong and that all this healthist propaganda against smoking, obesity, drinking, exercising etc. is behavioral eugenics much like the Nazis had instituted back then as part of their program? We often wonder how intelligent influential people could have possibly let it go this far without resistance back then, do we want to repeat the same error today?

Kendall Simmons 6 years ago

Like it or not, smoking kills people. Lots of them. Daily. It's an addictive carcinogenic behavior that kills over 5 million people every single year...almost half a million of whom are Americans. Every single year. And then, of course, there's the over 8.5 million Americans each year who suffer from a serious illness caused by smoking.

But, hey...feel free to argue that smoking is their own choice. I'll buy that. Never mind that tobacco is highly addictive. (Hmmm...I wonder what your opinion is on legalizing meth or crack.) The fact is that people don't have to start smoking. They don't have to keep smoking. They can get help. So why the heck should the government be involved...right? Even though "tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States"...it's a matter of personal responsibility. Right?

And never mind that the medical costs incurred because of this particular addiction are outrageous. I'm sure you'll agree that they should have to pay for their medical costs all by themselves. Right? No one addicted to tobacco in need of medical care who is also receiving any sort of government health care coverage (e.g. Medicare) should be covered at all.

But what about people with private health insurance? Well, why the heck should the REST of us with private health insurance have to pay higher premiums because of these addicts??? Yup. Any illness caused by a person's own tobacco addiction...not covered.

Sounds great to me. Smaller government. Lower insurance premiums. And who cares if those people suffer and die? After all, it was their own choice to smoke. Right? And to keep smoking. (Heck, you could even argue that death from smoking is a form of population control without having to deal with the whole messy abortion issue.)

Unfortunately, though, you don't want to stop there.

You want to completely ignore the fact that second-hand smoke kills people, too. Lots and lots and lots of them.

Of those almost half a million Americans who die from smoking each year? Over 11% of them die from second-hand smoke. Thanks to exposure to second-hand smoke, approximately 3,000 nonsmoking Americans die of lung cancer each year and more than 46,000 die of heart disease.

Hmmm. They don't smoke. They aren't addicted. Are we supposed to blame them, too?

Well, of course. I mean, they could have divorced their smoking spouse...right? Quit their job...right?? Avoided any place where people might smoke...because, of course, smokers have a God-given right to smoke any darn place they want...and how dare the government tell anyone they can't?

After all...those Nazis tried to save everyone's lives, not weed them out through death because of their particular abhorent behavior...so how dare we be like the Nazis?????

Oh, wait. Is that really how eugenics works???

Liberty275 6 years ago

"smokers have a God-given right to smoke any darn place they want...and how dare the government tell anyone they can't?"

I don't know anyone that thinks that. Libertarians and the right believe owners have the right to decide if their property is smoke free or smoke friendly. I know that's what I think and it is the only position that embraces freedom at every level.

Eugenics is just another one of mans' dumb ideas.

CyZane 6 years ago

And of course you are absolutely sure of all that you're parroting coming from the propagandists, right? You're sure of the number of people tobacco kills right? And you're definitely positively sure that smokers are those who get the most lung cancer, right? And you of course wouldn't believe me if I showed you CDC figures that current smokers and never smokers are almost at par with lung cancer prevalence and other so called smoking related diseases and it is actually the former smokers that have the biggest prevalence - 63% when it comes to lung cancer. And by former smokers I don't mean those who only quit 2 years ago and used to smoke like chimneys. I mean anyone who has quit even as far back as 40 years ago and only smoked 5 packs of cigarettes in his lifetime. Yup, that's exactly how the propagandist statistics are made up. If you don't believe me, do yourself a favor and look them up. I'll even tell you where: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5644a2.htm

And of course you truly believe that smokers cost the healthcare system more even though you also believe that they die younger. How do you deal with the contradiction? If they die younger they save tons of money for society on pensions, old age homes, care and medication. Of course you don't think about that, because you believe the propaganda .

And you also blindly believe that second hand smoke kills albeit it takes at least 20 years (if ever) for HEAVY smokers to get any disease allegedly caused by smoking. Even the CDC doesn't guesstimate smoking related deaths for anyone under 35. Yet you believe that hundreds of diluted second hand smoke will catch up to anyone before something else does them in?

Now that clearing up the myths is out of the way, let's discuss the real topic at hand. Why is behavioral eugenism as was exercised by the Nazis not the same as what today's healthists are imposing on societies? Not one day goes by without hearing of a health scare that needs fixing from the white lab coat community and their health scares get ever increasingly absurd. How far do you want this to go before you, just like Mr. Pitts, realize that this has gone too far? What will it take for you to realize that healthism is a partnership between governments who collect the taxes, the pharmaceutical industry that makes handsome dividends out of the pill for every ill brainwashed mentality, and health lobbyists who profit from the grants of both? And you don't recognize this for the corporate fascism that it is? Except for the eugenics end of it, it is in fact more fascist than nazist or maybe it simply is a combination of both.

Ragingbear 6 years ago

Cigarettes: Like Hitler, but not really.

jaywalker 6 years ago

My favorite post by far. Thanx, bear.

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