The Journal Gazette
Monday, August 01, 2016 10:00 pm

Get the balance right

Christer Watson

Along with many other Hoosiers, I watched the Republican Convention with particular fascination for how Mike Pence would do. Listening to the commentators discuss him was an odd experience. Hearing the one-minute summary of his career, I felt like most commentators didn’t quite get it. The common line I heard was that Donald Trump made a responsible, adult choice with Pence as vice president. This struck me as almost exactly wrong.

I say that for many reasons, but I think Pence’s approach to tobacco and coal are good examples. While serving in the House in 2000, Pence voted against an important tobacco bill, claiming that smoking doesn’t kill. Well, his full argument was pretty confusing because he also claimed, in the same article, that "2 out of 3 smokers (don’t) die from a smoking-related illness." In my math, that means that one out of three does die from a smoking-related illness, which means that smoking does kill.

Mind you, smoking is incredibly important. It represents one of the greatest public health successes in the U.S. of the last 50 years. Three generations ago, we did not fully understand the health effects of smoking. As doctors and public health experts have slowly learned how damaging smoking is, they have worked to help all of us better understand the importance of not smoking. If you ask your family doctor for three pieces of advice for good health, I’ll bet you good money they will mention not smoking.

Smoking has decreased, although not by as much as many hoped. Among the young, for whom it is not legal to even purchase cigarettes, it is worryingly high.

Indiana has the seventh-highest smoking rate in the country. Some 17 percent of pregnant women smoke, also high compared to the national average. We have a lower tax on cigarettes, $1 compared to the $1.53 average nationally. Studies have shown that one of the most effective methods of reducing smoking is having a high tax. A high tax is especially effective for discouraging minors.

These facts can be changed, but only if our leaders accept them and work to change them. In this case, Pence doesn’t apparently have any interest in using sound science and public health practices. He doesn’t have the maturity to accept facts that make uncomfortable his one simple ideal – small government.

Pence displayed his judgment again in promoting using coal for generating electricity in Indiana. More precisely, Pence has consistently argued against any regulation of greenhouse gases produced by coal-burning power plants. Coal-burning produces 75 percent of our electricity. As governor, he has actively fought national regulations in court.

He also has advertised Indiana as business friendly, specifically citing the cheap electricity. It is cheap principally because we use coal. This choice to fight any change away from coal and to actively promote that change for the future is a choice to avoid the science of climate change because the solutions would require government action.

So when I hear Pence described as the adult choice for Trump’s VP, I wonder what that really means. All of this reminds me of the Pixar movie "Inside Out," about the growth of a young girl. At the end of the movie, the not-yet-teenage girl shows her maturity by being able to have more than one emotion at the same time. I think a similar criterion should be applied to political issues. Can a politician think about more than one principle at the same time, realizing that balance is necessary? I don’t think Pence can.


Christer Watson, a Fort Wayne resident, is an associate professor of physics at Manchester University. Opinions expressed are his own. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette, where his columns appear the first and third Tuesday of each month.

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