At the moment, there remains a strong incentive to support the status quo, lest you be targeted in your next race as some kind of hippie-lover. The incentives on the other side, on the other hand, are almost nil. When was the last time somebody lost a race for being too tough on drugs? The half of Americans who favor marijuana legalization are not an organized voting bloc that gets together to punish its opponents at the polls.
Waldman posted that on Tuesday the 29th. On that same day, Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes was defeated in a primary by El Paso City Council member Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke decided to challenge Reyes after the longtime Congressman fought back against O’Rourke’s attempt to pass a city resolution calling for a broader debate on drug policy, including legalization. Reyes ran attack ads trying to paint O’Rourke as being soft on drugs. And it backfired. O’Rourke captured over 50% of the vote and prevented even a runoff.
While some may argue that there were several factors beyond the drug war that led to Reyes’ defeat, the Attorney General’s race in Oregon a few weeks ago was clearly an example of someone losing a race for being too tough on drugs. Former U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton was the early favorite to win the Democratic nomination for Attorney General, but his previous attempts to undermine Oregon’s medical marijuana laws came back to haunt him, as underdog Ellen Rosenblum attacked him over that and won a landslide victory. In that race, medical marijuana was clearly the main differentiator between the candidates, and the “tough of drugs” candidate got demolished.
Morgan sums it up really well:
Really, the whole notion that candidates who support reform will be labeled as “hippie-lovers,” is nothing more than a fictitious cliché without a single good example to justify its utterance. Instead, we’re witnessing the emergence of the exact opposite, a new dynamic in democratic races wherein a history of defending the drug war is a political liability that can be exploited to powerful effect by candidates who side with the majority of voters in favoring reform.
That’s why it’s so frustrating to see observers like Waldman, who supports reforming drug policy, nevertheless endeavor to uphold the notion that political realities require our leaders to do the wrong thing. If Obama were to read that analysis and find it convincing, Waldman would have succeeded in helping the President rationalize his refusal to support reform. We’re hurting our cause when we say stuff like this, and worse yet, the idea itself isn’t even true.
I’ve often argued that Democratic support for the drug war isn’t as much a result of special interest pandering as it seems (although that certainly happens). Much of it is just inertia from a time not long ago when this political calculus was actually true. But times have changed quite drastically in the past 10-20 years, and those who’ve noticed the change are being rewarded by the voters. And those who aren’t are finding themselves like Silvestre Reyes and Dwight Holton, wondering how they managed to lose to “some kind of hippie-lover”.