My father had been a smoker since he was a teenager, and had never been able to stop. For the previous five years, he had been losing weight, so we knew something was wrong. We tried to get him to go to the doctor, but he refused. He eventually died a horrible death from emphysema and lung disease.
My mother sometimes wondered if she was responsible. Of course my father held the ultimate responsibility, but she painfully asked herself whether she might have done something that would have allowed him to survive. Three years before his death, he lost so much weight that we knew something was wrong. When we brought up going to the doctor, Dad walked away from us.
“Leave it to me,” my mother said. “I know the right moment to bring it up.”
She tried. But Dad’s ability to stonewall unexpectedly exceeded my mother’s ability to manipulate him. We even tried to trick him into going to the doctor a couple times. My sister asked him to drive her to the doctor, and then go into the examination room with her, and when the doctor came in, he start talking to Dad about his own health. He just stood up and walked out.
There were many people on Dad’s side. Mom, sis, and I. The Surgeon General when he released his report. Those commercials on television. And 49% of my father.
On the other side, working against him, were many people, as well. Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds. All those Carolina farmers. All those Carolina senators and congressmen. All those 1950s ad agencies like Sterling Cooper that recommended cigarettes “for your health.” And 51% of my father.
I sometimes wonder what could have convinced that 1% to defect.
Going through my father’s effects after he died, we discovered lots of literature he had received from the tobacco industry. These expensive four-color booklets talked about smoking as a matter of civil rights. You have a right to enjoy a cigarette, the literature said. Fight for your rights, it said. You have the right to smoke next to people, or in restaurants, or at your job, or wherever the hell you want. Don’t let the politically correct liberals take your rights away from you. (To see some recent versions of this argument, go here.)
The authors of this literature were co-conspirators with the tobacco industry in killing my father. In the months after he died, I sometimes unexpectedly began to cry. Once, while standing in line at the grocery store and seeing a headline that reminded me of him. Once, while driving down Ohio Avenue under the 405 and hearing a song that reminded me of him. My thoughts were forever bumping into memories of him. They still are.
Recently, I saw a news item on one of the companies that used to put together that literature, The Center for Individual Freedom. It’s an organization, you understand, that manufactures lies and sells them to an unsuspecting public. And during that election cycle, they were selling lies in nine congressional districts attacking nine different Democrats:
These days, they’re attacking the ACA and global warming. See for yourself.
They killed my father. They’re the 1% in more ways than one. Don’t fall for what they’re selling now.