Friday, June 24, 2011

If I were a conservative congressman ...

faced with the Barney Frank/Ron Paul bill repealing the federal ban on marijuana, how would I respond? 

On the one hand, it's hard to deny that the war on drugs has been a massive failure. And part of my political base would be sympathetic to repeal; I might remember that in 2004 the state of Montana voted for George Bush 59/39 and for medical marijuana 62/38. But another part of my base would regard the proposal as anathema. How to straddle that divide?

For the benefit of any politician in that situation, here is a rough draft of a speech or press release:

I have been asked for my view on the bill representatives Frank and Paul have introduced to repeal the federal ban on marijuana. I think the first thing one must concede is that the War on Drugs, as it has actually been fought, has been a failure. For forty years it has spent large amounts of money, imprisoned large numbers of people, helped turn our inner cities into free fire zones, and imposed on the police enforcement obligations difficult or impossible to fulfill. The one thing we have not done, despite repeated promises and predictions, is to succeed in preventing Americans from using illegal drugs. 

By that measure, surely the essential one, the project has been a failure. Part of being an adult is being willing to recognize one's mistakes. What is not clear is whether the mistake is the war itself or how it has been conducted. I would like to hope that we can come up with some approach to the problem that will achieve the objective and will not do enormous damage in the process. But I think we must be open to the possibility that, given our circumstances and our society, no such solution is possible, that the overuse of recreational drugs is simply one of those evils that must be endured because there is no practical way of curing it.

I therefor intend to vote to bring the Frank/Paul bill to the floor, to encourage an active and extended discussion, and either to vote for it or to propose some alternative to the failed approach of the past forty years. And I would like to thank representatives Frank and Paul for taking the first step in that process.

I'm curious as to what my readers think of this effort in rhetorical role playing. Would it work—appeal sufficiently to both sides? Should I look into a future career in speech writing?

I think I'll probably keep my day job.


Power Child said...

I think your speech is good, but in addressing a conservative base I would hammer home these five points:

1. Drug prohibition puts our national security at great risk by maximizing the profitability of our enemies' largest fundraising activity: the opium trade. It also puts the inflated profitability of the drug trade into the hands of violent central American cartels, which have grown so powerful that they wage full-scale wars just outside our borders. If we continue our international war on drugs, it is only a matter of time before one or both of these threats starts to cause serious and consistent domestic catastrophes.

2. The war on drugs has resulted in the destruction of the lives, families, and communities of many otherwise innocent Americans, and in the process has turned millions against mainstream America and the American dream. Human life, the family, the community, and the American dream are supposed to be things that conservatives value and uphold.

3. The war on drugs has necessitated an enormous increase in the size and scope of government, and has been the root cause of much wasteful spending of both time and tax dollars. Conservatives believe in fiscal responsibility, but the war on drugs is an exercise in wastefulness.

4. Drug prohibition has historically been a cause of Progressives, not conservatives. (See the Harrison Act and the 18th Amendment, for two examples.) This makes sense, since Progressivism is all about using government to attempt to create utopian conditions in an imperfect world.

5. Conservatism, on the other hand, is about accepting reality and the need for trade-offs. Because the demand for drugs will never go away and there will always be people who are incapable of using drugs responsibly or in moderation, legalizing drugs may result in some increases in drug use and crime. But given the previous four points, this is a worthwhile trade-off. It's time that conservatives got conservative about drug laws.

Gordon said...

You need to rewrite the point about how part of being an adult is admitting mistakes. While true, it carries too much implication that they have not been being adults.

David Friedman said...


I agree, of course, with the points you make. But I was trying to construct a talk for a prudent politician who didn't want to commit himself to support the bill while still leaving open the possibility of doing so, not for one who supported legalization and was trying to persuade his constituents to agree.

PirateFriedman said...

I just can't have any interest in persuading rednecks to accept libertarian ideals. Not saying you would fail all the time, I just think we need a revolutionary class of libertarian elitists, intelligent people who will obstruct the state and force it to stop functioning.

Power Child said...

David: oops, I got carried away. If you wanted to leave it open-ended, you could simply replace the last two sentences in point #5 with a question: "But given the previous four points, might this be a worthwhile trade-off?"

Joseph said...

You might try pointing out that the largest decline in the use of illegal drugs (when hallucinogens went from being considered the Wave of the Future to being considered a silly vice) occurred when the most prominent federal effort consisted of a First lady saying "Just say no."

You might also say "You have to say no. We won't do it for you."