Published in The Enterprise, 10-20-97

Criticism Isn’t Precluded by Party Loyalty

by Rocky Anderson

In his October 10 Enterprise column, Kent Shearer expressed his astonishment that, in my earlier column, I criticized a fellow Democrat. According to Shearer, my comments about Jan Graham and her support of the deal brokered between several state attorneys general and the major tobacco companies were an “attack” and “retaliation,” which he speculates were because of Graham’s lack of support for my 1996 congressional race.

Perhaps the tone of my columns about the tobacco scam being pushed by Graham would have been somewhat milder had she not, as Attorney General, played the worst sort of politics with issues about which I feel passionately, including humane treatment for inmates, freedom of reproductive choices for women, legal accountability for injuries caused by the negligence of government employees, and impartiality in deciding whether to prosecute the rich and the powerful. However, Shearer is mistaken if he thinks my criticism of the shameful arrangement with the tobacco industry is motivated by personal feelings toward Graham. Democrat or not, whoever backs this sell-out to the tobacco industry will be in my critical sights.

Both of my parents, addicted to nicotine since their college days, died horrendous deaths from emphysema. The prematurity of their deaths was not the only tragedy; far worse were the disabilities suffered by them for several years before they died. Hooked up to oxygen and often gasping for breath, they couldn’t enjoy any of the pleasures they thought would follow my father’s retirement. They couldn’t travel, they couldn’t take walks, they couldn’t even romp with their grandchildren. It broke their hearts – and it broke mine. My son hardly got to know them.

Presently, I have a dear friend who is going through the same sort of hell experienced by my parents. She has contributed far more to this community than any damn politician and, but for her emphysema, she would have many more years of devoted service to give. Her wonderful brain and soul are still intact. Yet her body is giving out, slowly and painfully, because of her addiction for so many years to the deadly drug pushed by a powerful, deceptive, evil cartel – the U.S. tobacco industry.

So, to those, like former Tobacco Institute lawyer Jan Graham, who want to hand to the tobacco industry legal immunity for the death and disease they have visited, and continue to visit, upon millions of people worldwide, and who, at the same time, want to enrich the tobacco companies with the billions in extra profits and higher stock prices that would accompany the deal trumpeted by Graham, I say: “I don’t care one whit what your political affiliation is; your position on this issue is wrong and I will continue to vigorously criticize it.” If that means I am not a good party loyalist, so be it. (However, keep in mind that many good Democrats, as well as over 60 public health organizations, are adamantly opposed to the deal advocated by Graham.)

Which brings me to another issue raised by Shearer in his column. According to Shearer, Republicans abide by a so-called Eleventh Commandment enjoining them from speaking ill of other Republicans, while we unrestrained Democrats are constantly getting into cat fights among ourselves. Has Shearer really forgotten all the nasty things Republicans have said about each other during the course of their wildly expensive primary races? And what about the crankiness among so many Utah Republicans toward Senator Hatch during the most recent state convention, brought about by Hatch’s partnership with Senator Kennedy in seeking health insurance coverage for children through an increase in the cigarette tax?

Perhaps some Republicans find merit in Disraeli’s advice: “Damn your principles! Stick to your party.” However, for me, and for most Democrats with whom I am acquainted, principle is the primary, if not the sole, reason for commitment to the Democratic Party. Without principle, party loyalty comes at what cost – and, ultimately, for what reason?