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February 2008
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Random thoughts on Presidential elections

Tom Angell got a nice letter published in the Chicago Trib yesterday.

But it’s absolutely wrong of Chapman to say, as he does in the column, that endorsing this common-sense policy change “would be considered political suicide” for a presidential candidate like U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
To the contrary, a CNN/Time Magazine poll taken in 2002 shows that 72 percent of Americans support marijuana decriminalization.
Obama’s latest position opposing decriminalization will only win him favor with the mere 19 percent of Americans who, according to the poll, favor the continued arrest and jailing of otherwise law-abiding citizens who happen to use marijuana.
Supporting the criminalization of responsible adults is not only a senseless and cruel public policy, it is politically foolish.

It’s a good letter that is both right… and wrong.
It was the right letter to write. The right letter for people to read. It was right in its underlying facts. But probably wrong in its conclusion.
If Presidential politics had any kind of logic or reason to it, then the fact that the majority of people support decriminalization would lead to the conclusion that supporting decriminalization is a good political choice. But it never works that cleanly.
if Obama came out in support of decriminalization the population would, in general, factually support it. But would that be the population that he needs to win over to get the magic numbers? And how would the opposition deal with it?
I could write the ad myself…

Scene: dark shots of inner city streets with black drug dealers conducting transactions, junkies shooting up and slumped in doorways, etc.
Voice: America faces a continuing epidemic of drugs in our streets, endangering our communities and families. Every day, thousands of young people are snared by these dangerous drugs and many will die.
Barack Obama wants to make illicit drugs even more available to our children and tie the hands of law enforcement efforts to make our cities safe.
Scene: Sunny suburban community park with kids and dogs playing, mothers with strollers, etc.
Voice: John McCain cares about families and children and vows to keep dangerous drugs out of our communities…

You get the idea…
The best thing about drug policy emerging in Presidential politics is not that a potentially successful Presidential candidate is actually going to embrace reform in speech or action. No, the best thing is that it gets the rest of the country talking.
I have no delusions that we’ll get a President to lead. But having Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich talking about drug policy, and Obama’s drug past coming up, and candidates addressing sentencing disparity has been great in terms of getting these issues in the public spotlight.
Ultimately, when it comes to electing a President, it’ll have little to do with facts or good policy. I was struck with Atrios’ recent post (depressingly cynical, yet true)

As the season progresses and I read my 4 millionth “I CAN’T POSSIBLE VOTE FOR AND/OR SUPPORT CANDIDATE X” post/diary it’s useful to remind us all that presidential politics is not a contest to woo your little narcissistic self, it’s a contest to get 50%+1 of the electoral college votes.
And most people do little to “support” any of the candidates. Many do, of course, give money and time. But most don’t. It takes away from all that time spent bitching about the world online.
That being said, you are free to stay home and not vote. You are free to withhold what time and money you may have otherwise been willing to give for a different candidate. But nobody gives a shit. It’s not about you.

I recently attended a Democratic gathering in Illinois, and was amazed to see how, while being careful not to say it publicly, they were 100% supporters of Obama. I was puzzled for a moment, and then someone explained it to me. If Obama is the nominee, then the Democratic turnout will be much higher in Illinois (Obama’s state), which means that local Democratic candidates are more likely to be elected. It wasn’t just about what Obama stood for, it was about political opportunity.
I guess what I’m saying is… Fight for good candidates. Try to inform them about drug policy. Try to make them talk about drug policy. But don’t look for rationality or logic in their positions. Don’t expect leadership.
Leadership comes from the people.

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