I think that one of the saddest things in my life was learning that cigarette smoke was harmful,” says the familiar voice over the phone. “Because I just loved it. I loved it and I will miss it until the day I die of non-smoking related causes.” In a world of anti-tobacco hysterics, that’s a statement most would stray away from in casual company for fear of the emotionally-charged landmines that litter the social landscape. And in the jungle of opinion journalism, it’s an even braver few who would venture out on that limb perched so precariously over the ravenous and blog-capable crocodiles below. But sometimes it’s that penchant for danger that makes a pundit stand out in a country full of commentators.
MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson is an analyst’s analyst, known for his unabashed libertarian-bias as well as his knack for televised opinion-battle. Most notably, these included daily scuffles during his tenure as co-host of CNN’s Crossfire (which included an on-air shootout with Jon Stewart that has since worked its way into the canon of classic viral YouTube footage) and even a more recent international brush-up with the nation of Canada, who he once - lovingly - referred to as “America’s retarded cousin.” He has since dropped the iconic bow tie, but Tucker has never lost his fire, and remains an exceptionally sovereign voice who is never afraid of a fight. And lately, there’s been a brawl to be had about the vilification of the lowly cigar.
Big Brother, Where Art Thou?
“I think that most people are so inept that they don’t realize that they’re giving up an important right, an important freedom,” Carlson scolds. “But they did.” Few commentators are as incensed at the smoking ban movement as Carlson, particularly one California town’s recent legislation banning smoking in one’s own home if it’s part of a multi-story or multi-unit residence. “I mean, the Rubicon’s been crossed,” says Carlson. “You no longer have the right to do what you want in your own home. Or what you do to your own body in your home. And by the way, the passive smoking argument is a total canard. I’d like someone to explain to me why smoking in a public park - where there have been some smoking bans - is more dangerous than, say, diesel exhaust. It’s a lie. We all know it’s a lie. But the difference is that we need to have diesel trucks, or we’re not going to get our iPods delivered to Best Buy on time. But smoking isn’t popular, so we just crush the unpopular thing. It’s really scary.”
Tucker - an admirer of the writings of Barry Goldwater, as well as those of Hunter S. Thompson - has an inherent distrust for city councils and state legislatures that think they know what’s best for you. It’s an inclination that led to a gig emceeing this past summer’s libertarian-leaning “shadow convention” run by genuine maverick and Frank Purdue doppelgänger, Ron Paul. Despite lending his time and name to help amplify the Paul-Call for Federal government on the amoebic scale, Tucker has resigned himself to the belief that a true libertarian party that could stand-up to the Big Brothers on both the right and the left is a (privately-funded) pipe dream. Can a true movement that - in addition to small government romanticists - appeals to Militiamen, conspiracy theorists, and Wiccans alike ever truly coalesce?
“The Ron Paul movement has drawn in a lot of thoughtful, smart, good people. But it’s also drawn in some crazies. And they tend to just ruin it. Including the 9-11 deniers - they’re a really malignant force. So I think it’s just a shame. Basically organized libertarian politics is an oxymoron. Libertarians are the most anti-authoritarian people in the world. They have trouble taking direction. You’re not ever likely to see an organized political party that’s Libertarian. I mean, how would you ever hold a meeting?”
As American as a Cuban Cigar
In contrast to the excitable spastic gusto anti-smoking crusaders have against all things tobacco, it’s a product Tucker views in more poetic tones. “I just like tobacco. The country was founded on it. I feel patriotic using it,” Carlson declares. “I think it’s one of the most subtle pleasures available to man…something I’ve never grown tired of. I’ve used it in almost every kind of its incarnations.”
Like many cigar smokers, Tucker came over from the world of cigarettes. In true sober, skeptical, libertarian form, Tucker accepts that tobacco has its ill effects, but still thinks the pleasure versus harm quandary should be a decision every adult should make for themselves. “I only started smoking cigars seriously when I quit smoking cigarettes,” Carlson admits. “I’m a passionate cigar smoker. I was able to smoke a couple of Cuban Cohibas over the weekend. They have a taste which is so interesting and so complex that you just want to sit and think about it. Tobacco smoke touches some deep part of me emotionally, I can’t describe it. I contrast it with alcohol - I don’t drink anymore, because drinking dulls me. It makes me less aware and less interested and more passive. Something about tobacco has the opposite effect: it heightens your experience of the world. It doesn’t dull it.”
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