Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The "Smoke-Filled Room" Commits Suicide?

Read it and weep, Chicago smokers.

The regular readers of this space know what I think of this issue. There is no more need to kvetch about that part of the issue.

What struck me was a turn of phrase from the past, a term coined in Chicago that popped into my head upon reading this development.

The phrase "a smoke-filled room" was coined in Chicago on June 11, 1920 at the Blackstone Hotel during the Republican National Convention.

The power brokers of the party could not come to a consensus on a candidate. They recessed into a room at the Blackstone and made the decision that Warren G. Harding was their man. The Associated Press reported that the decision was made in a "smoke-filled room."

Ever since, the phrase has been used in political circles to denote a back-room compromise wherein the leaders make an unpopular decision without the input of the people.

The city that birthed the phrase, by textbook example of its eventual definition, made the conditions for its genesis impossible.

Put that in your pipe and...well...at least sleep on it, Chicago.


Anonymous said...

In early 1920, months before the convention, Harry M. Dougherty, Harding's campaign manager, seeing the possibility of a deadlock between front-runners Leonard Wood and Frank Lowden, engaged in a little political speculation which probably gave birth to the myth of the smoke-filled room. He said in an interview, "I don't expect Senator Harding to be nominated on the first, second or third ballot, but I think... that about eleven minutes after two o'clock on Friday morning at the convention... fifteen or twenty men, somewhat weary... sitting around a table... one of them will say: 'Who will we nominate?' At that decisive time the friends of Senator Harding can suggest him." It was pure speculation but, obviously, of such are myths born.

The deadlock did take place. At Chicago's Blackstone Hotel in a suite shared by Republican Party Chairman William Hays and George Harvey, publisher of Harvey's weekly magazine, from 8:00 PM to 2:00 AM party leaders came and went. Harvey later said that Harding was one of those visitors and when asked if there was any reason why he should not be nominated, said no. According to Harvey, powerful senators passed the word to vote for Harding. The problem is there is no evidence other than Harvey's word that Harding was ever in the suite. Most of the senators present went on to vote for someone else in the early ballots the next day.

The real decision was not made in a smoke-filled room at the Blackstone. There was smoke made by thousands of cigars puffed by ordinary delegates gathered the next day in the stifling heat of the Chicago Coliseum. Many of those present were elected in presidential primaries and therefore were not so easily manipulated by political bosses. In the end the delegates voted for Harding because they were tired of heat and deadlock.


Anonymous said...

By the way, copied that off a website at University of Richmond


Matthew Jenks and the G-Funk All-Stars said...

Being an asthmatic (and tracing it back to my parents' heavy smoking throughout my youth) and one who tends to have asthmatic episodes when in smoke-filled places, I applaud the notion of smoke-free environments.

I also like the idea of leaving a restaurant and not smelling of tobacco smoke.

I also feel that this is a good thing for the non-smoking wait staff that have to bring the food to those who do smoke and the adverse side-effects that second-hand smoke causes.

HOWEVER...I don't like this sudden movement to BAN everything. For one, there's a certain mystique that goes with the smoke-filled bar that something edgy and mysterious is going down, where people are huddled in quiet, darkened corners plotting and planning great things. There's a stigma of sitting down in a bar, a hazy sort of curtain hanging over a handful of pool tables, a red and blue Budweiser sign casting a surreal aura over the bar as you sit down beside some total stranger, order a beer, look up at the television screen and say, "Fuckin' Packers." And the guy next to you whips around and agrees: "Fuckin' Packers."

I mean, this is America, after all. I have no problem with a smoking section of a restaurant. Hell, I've been thown out of a smoking section for smoking too much (makes perfect sense for a guy who is afflicted with "moderate to severe asthma", I know). Smokers have rights, too, and whether I agree with what they do or not, it's their choice. Not the choice of the bar-owner or, as is most common, the city council in which said bar resides.

My big concern is what comes next. Well, we've outlawed smoking. Now, let's get rid of beer at the bar, because of the dangers of drunk driving! Let's get rid of those annoying whining babies, because, you know, their parents certainly don't deserve a night out. I'm sorry, sir, we don't serve good, greasy cheeseburgers anymore. Frying them has become a hazard to the illegal staff of Mexican workers in the back. Here's a nice selection of various greens that you would find on your burger, were we to serve you such a vile concoction of sodium and cholesterol. Not to mention, think of the poor cattle who died to make that burger. Wouldn't you prefer a salad, with a glass of water, your children locked in a box somewhere, no smoking and, oh, we'll also skip that after-dinner mint. Tooth decay and all.


Let folks smoke. If nothing else, it gives me justification for the several breaks I take during the day to check my email.

And yes, I did feel the need to play around with the HTML tags and otherwise clutter up your blog.