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November 2006
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Ruminations on Republicans and Democrats and drug policy

A good discussion on yesterday’s voting post, so I thought I’d continue it here (these are my own thoughts — your mileage may vary). And since third party candidates are still mostly excluded by the system, I’m going to focus on the majors.
First of all, obviously if you’ve got a candidate from either party who is strongly in favor of drug policy reform, that’s great. But for the vast majority of this country, this option doesn’t exist. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gone to a candidate’s website (when researching voting guides) and found nothing regarding drug policy.
Why? Because of us, mostly. Drug policy reform doesn’t even show up on polls as an issue people care about. I was recently polled by an independent company and I had to select “other” and write it in, despite a list of about 30 issues from which to select. The public visibility of this issue, in my mind, is lower than the public interest. And the reason is that people won’t talk about it.
How many of you are still afraid to tell your friends, your family that you support drug policy reform — an end to prohibition — even, gasp, legalization? How many other critical issues today cut this way? Can you imagine someone expressing an opinion that they are pro-choice, or pro-life — “but don’t use my real name — I need to keep my job”? Oh, sure, it probably happens, but not nearly to the extent that people stay in the closet on ending prohibition.
Until we get a larger percentage of the population willing to go public about reform, we’ll have a really tough time getting politicians of any flavor to do very much for us.
Given that reality, what can we expect from the two major parties? Both have been horrible in drug policy. Republicans through their law-and-order and moralizing planks, and Democrats from their Oh-yeah-well-I-can-be-just-as-law-and-order-as-you and protect-people-from-themselves planks (see Tip O’Neill).
Since we don’t have the clout (or the will) to get the politicians’ attention directly yet, we sometimes need to find ways to get in sideways. (This is why I think the state initiatives have been good things — they bypass, to some extent, the politicians, and let the people actually have a greater voice than they are publicly willing to have, thereby sending the politicians a message and building public confidence in the issue.)
What does this mean with the parties?
Democrats
The sideways approach is probably all that is politically viable at this point. I have had Democrats tell me that they agree with me on drug policy, but it would be political suicide for the Democrats to support it and it would undermine their ability to protect a woman’s right to choose.
However, as the old saying goes, organizing Democrats is like herding cats, and there’s a whole lot of issues they love that can be exploited and made to connect to drug policy. The environment, health care (affordable health care), racism, the poor, the machinery of war, seniors, foreign policy, AIDS, etc. This allows a lot of possibilities for them to cast votes that are favorable to incremental drug policy reform without worrying about the attack ad showing they’re soft on drugs.
Additionally, if the public ever gets to the point where they’re willing to speak out in large enough voting numbers and demand reform, the Democrats, in my opinion, will go along.
Republicans
I, quite frankly, don’t know what approach will work with the Republicans today other than a wholesale purge of the party leadership (which this election may precipitate). I’ve had plenty of Republicans tell me that they agree with me on drug policy, but these Republicans no longer have any power in their party.
There used to be all sorts of great sideways approaches to the Republicans — limited government, states’ rights, fiscal responsibility, individual responsibility, keep the damned gov’mint off my land, gun rights, foreign policy. But the current Republican leadership has completely scrapped all of those bedrock conservative principles in favor of the use of authoritarian and theocratic measures to maintain power.
Additionally, if the public ever gets to the point where they’re willing to speak out in large enough voting numbers and demand reform, I’m not sure if the current Republican leadership would go along. If they think they need to buck the public to appeal to the theocratic base or protect the interests of the pharmaceutical contributors, they’ll ignore the public’s wishes.
Conclusion: This means that at this point in time it appears that the Democrats are the best choice.
A big win for the Democrats today means

  • split government for the next two years
  • better chance for things like the Hinchey amendment to pass
  • a potential shake-up in the Republican party that could mean a return to more traditional conservative roots, or cause libertarian conservatives to split off entirely

So for now, a Democratic win is good news for us.
Now, I know many of my loyal readers are unhappy when I talk about incremental reform, and I understand that, but I believe that major reform would require getting that majority of the population out of the closet and demanding it. Incremental reform softens up the population to counter decades of propaganda — it gets them to start the process of questioning what they’ve been taught all their lives. It’s hard to get a massive population to completely change overnight.
I would love to see major reform happen now without all the piecemeal efforts. I’m just not sure how.

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