What was the National Cancer Institute (NCI) thinking when it decided to spend $678,952 to fund a notorious political activist to conduct a "scientific" research study designed to prove that the Tea Party was an invention of Big Tobacco and the Koch brothers, rather than a grassroots movement of disenfranchised Americans fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties? Is the NCI so flush with taxpayer cash and so close to banishing cancer that it can indulge in petty partisan politics disguised as peer-reviewed science? Members of Congress on the hunt for ineffective discretionary spending programs to cut should take notice.
This tempest in a tea party pot was set off by a study released last week, "'To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts': the tobacco industry and the Tea Party." Co-authored by anti-smoking zealot Stanton A. Glantz, the study focuses on identifying and demonizing the people, ideas, donors, and organizations loosely affiliated under the Tea Party banner by pointing to common themes that were also raised by the "smokers' rights" movement. The clear and unambiguous intent is both to besmirch the Tea Party by publicly associating it with an industry widely held in low repute and to recruit anti-smoking zealots to the anti-Tea Party cause.
Is this what "science" has been reduced to in the age of Obama? Is this what R&D "investments" are going to look like as the permanent campaign politicizes everything under the sun?
The "Methods" section of the paper describes the procedures the study's authors used to advance the NCI's mission to cure cancer. "We used the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, the Wayback Machine, Google, LexisNexis, the Center for Media and Democracy and the Center for Responsive Politics (opensecrets.org) to examine the tobacco companies' connections to the Tea Party." Wow, that sure sounds like objective science to me. Who could confuse it with political opposition research? I'm sure all those patients on chemotherapy waiting for a cure will be thrilled.
The logic supporting the paper's scientific conclusion that "the Tea Party has developed over time, in part through decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests" is that since both the tobacco industry and the Tea Party support freedom of choice, fewer regulations, and lower taxes, the latter must be in thrall to the former.
But wait, there's more. The paper goes beyond its "Conclusion" to make a recommendation. "It is important for tobacco control advocates in the USA and internationally, to anticipate and counter Tea Party opposition to tobacco control policies and ensure that policymakers, the media and the public understand the longstanding connection between the tobacco industry, the Tea Party and its associated organisations." If this is not political lobbying paid for by the taxpayer, I don't know what is.
In the hours following the study's release, the leftist blogosphere had a field day, drawn to anti-Tea Party attacks like a thirsty Marco Rubio to a bottle of Poland Spring. Right on cue, Al Gore weighed in with a Huffington Post screed that widened the alleged cast of Tea Party godfathers to include Big Oil, making sure not to miss a chance to flog his new book. I guess he needs the book royalties, as the $100 million he just pocketed from selling his cable channel to Middle East oil magnates isn't enough to support his low-carbon, jet setting lifestyle. The irony of it all seemed to escape Big Al's fans, especially when paired with the well-documented connection between the Gore family and Big Tobacco, but hey, being a lefty Nobel Prize winner means never being held to any standards.
Like many people, I despise smoking. It's a vile habit that I don't allow in my home, and the sooner it disappears the better. But what's even more vile is the way the tobacco companies have gone into partnership with the government thanks to the so-called Tobacco Settlement, one of the most corrupt and hypocritical extra-legislative tax grabs establishing a crony capitalist cartel ever spawned by a democracy that lost its way.
But is it so radical to believe that smoking--like junk food snarfing, motorcycle riding, sky diving, mountain climbing, promiscuous sex, and running with scissors--is a matter of individual choice, otherwise known as freedom? Why choice so infuriates the left when applied to anything other than the freedom to end the life of an unborn child is one of the great mysteries of contemporary politics. Be that as it may, arguing about it is what politics are for.
But that's not what our cancer research dollars are for. Here we are 40 years into the war on cancer--the second most expensive and second least effective war our country has ever fought, save only for the disastrous war on drugs--and the NCI bureaucracy is funding a political pillory?
If I were a responsible Congressman (should such a creature exist), I would haul every single individual involved in the approval of grant number 5R01CA087472-11 before a committee for questioning. If this sort of hatchet job is allowed to stand it won't be long before we see the National Institutes of Health funding programs to research the root causes of Progressive Policy Oppositional Syndrome, recommending medication for anyone who doesn't obediently respond when commands are issued to move Forward.
Bill Frezza is a Fellow in Technology and Entrepreneurship at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and a Boston-based venture capitalist. CEI is a non-partisan public policy organization that used to receive tobacco funding, but this dropped dramatically after 2005 when CEI filed a constitutional challenge to the Tobacco Master Settlement, a deal vigorously supported by Big Tobacco. As that case demonstrates, CEI exercises independent judgment on its issues regardless of funding (which it accepts from all sources except government). In the past five years, CEI has received less than two-tenths of 1 percent of its funding from tobacco-related interests.