Hitting the Wall

Scott Morgan has a post up today asking why Democrats continue to defend the drug war. He quotes Paul Waldman at The American Prospect, who wrote this:

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”.


  1. 1

    EvergreenRailfan spews:

    I wonder what could make an El Paso City Councilmember ask for a broader discussion on the Drug War? Could it be the mess across the river in Juarez, where there are very few honest cops, and sometimes the mayor takes shelter in El Paso? By the way, what about the Congressional races for districts near Laredo? Saw a show A&E did last year on that, although they did not talk about policy, it was about the Laredo PD drug unit. At least one episode they showed the effect the smugglers and the violence is having across the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. In one episode, it showed one of the cops talking about another police chief being killed in NL, and the guy had only been on the job a month. The previous chief, had an even shorter tenure. THis may be time for a Solomon-like splitting the baby decision on the War on Drugs.

  2. 2

    Evergreen Libertarian spews:

    I had this discussion with an activist in the cannabis community yesterday questioning why the gay community has been so successful while the fight so reform in the drug war has been so hard.
    It is my belief that money has a lot to do with it.

    There may be hurt feelings if marriage equality passes, but not much money is going to be lost. On the other hand if cannabis is made legal lots of prison guards, police officers, lawyers and judges may have to find other work and of course there are the companies who have profited from selling weapons, urban assault vehicles, etc. But that is just my opinion.

  3. 3

    Liberal Scientist is a slut who occasionally wears a hoodie spews:


    The money runs both ways – that is, the gay community has significant financial resources and they aren’t shy deploying them; the cannabis reform community, not so much.

    And, as you say, marriage equity will only be a net positive on the economy – caterers, B+Bs, florists, formal wear, divorce lawyers, to name a few, will have lots more clients. However, the Prison-Industrial Complex very much needs that raw-material, the commodity, of an endless supply of non-violent citizens being incarcerated, and they (the PIC) have very deep pockets. Bastards.

  4. 4

    kim jong chillin spews:

    Do the crime, do the time……if you don’t wanna have big bubba and his buddy leon rip your sphincter apart, then don’t do the crime.

    The rules really are that easy to follow…..

  5. 5


    I have a good hypothetical for you that might help you understand this topic a little better.

    Let’s say that the legislature in Washington passes a law that makes it illegal to leave retarded comments on blogs. The police immediately come to your house, arrest you and charge you. Now if I then showed up at your jail cell as big bubba was ready to rip your sphincter apart and said “the rules really are that easy to follow”, what would your response be?

  6. 7

    kim jong chillin spews:

    My response would be: I think you would already be locked up, so your question is moot.


  7. 10

    ArtFart spews:

    @3 It’s the money, all right. The tide may be slowly starting to turn, but the production and distribution of illicit drugs is a big business, and so is the “war on drugs”–in which most of the “soldiers” (both individual and corporate) don’t really ever want to “win” or they’d have to find some way to make an honest living. There’s more corporate money than ever going toward the purchase of political support for continuing the present situation, if nothing else due to imprisonment having become a high-profit growth industry. And since the drug cartels’ good fortunes are also dependent on the status quo, you can bet your britches they’re pouring plenty of laundered money into supporting politicians on this side of the border who want to keep things as they are.

  8. 11

    rhp6033 spews:

    # 2: You have some good points. Whenever there is a serious effort at drug law reform, there is a considerable campaign by everyone from the NRA to the private prison guards. They fund grass-roots activities which appeal to grandma to “keep her grandkids off drugs”. On the advertising level, you see parents talking about how drugs destroyed their kids/spouse, and on the news media level there is a considerable increase in activity dealing with “the danger of drug gangs”, to be followed up by more ads on how the candidate is “soft on drug gangs” or “soft on the war on drugs”.

    But on the other side, the candidate seeking reform is on the defensive. Nobody involved in pot is going to risk funding any effort to support him, because somebody official is going to subpoena his bank records to find out the source of the money. The candidate himself isn’t going to want the money, because it opens him to the charge that his campaign is being financed by drug money.

    In the meantime, speed traps scattered throughout the south and south-west are conducted by small towns who use the confiscated vehicle laws to seize vehicles and auction them from out-of-state owners. Owners of the vehicles protest that there were no drugs in the cars, they must have been planted there. But the best he can hope for is an agreement to give up his claim to the vehicles in return for a dismissal of the charges. If he fights the case, he has to first argue it in front of Uncle John, who’s nephew is the local chief of police or sheriff’s deputy. Every law enforcement member of the community has a brand-new car every year, with the remainder of “confiscated vehicles” sold to support the salaries of every policeman, chief of police, prosecutor, and local judge.

  9. 12

    Politically Incorrect - who has been banned over at soundpolitics.com spews:

    There are a lot of people who have vested interests in keeping drugs illegal, but that’s no reason to not pursue some sanity in our drug laws.

    We, in Washington, can start by passing I-502 in November. I think even the most up-tight conservatives will agree that cannabis is not nearly as much a problem as alcohol and tobacco are. It’s time to finally officially recognize that the federal war on drugs, as far as cannabis is concerned, is just as evil as racial discrimination and other oppression. And it’s actually sponsored by government!!

    Please vote “yes” on I-502. Send a message to the “other” Washington to finally end the war on drugs.

  10. 13

    future engineer spews:

    And I follow those rules. However, I think we are right to ask ourselves whether a law that sends a lot of basically harmless people to prison, for an act that seems to be as innocuous as drinking a beer or smoking a cigar, is a good law.

    Ninety years ago this country had prohibition of alcohol, and that didn’t work out so well. It destroyed what large sections of what had previously been a diverse and healthy distilling industry. The rye whiskey distillers of Pennsylvania and Maryland never recovered, and we’ve been living off bourbon, scotch, and Canadian whiskey since then, much of it produced out of the country. Prohibition ruined the American palate; all the great bartenders moved to other countries, and the men who replaced them learned to cover up the alcohol rather than accent it, since it tasted so bad. American beer production and taste in beer was similarly damaged.

    More seriously, Prohibition took alcohol production and distribution out of the hands of honest men and delivered it to organized crime. Evidence suggests that more people consumed alcohol and that there were more alcoholics after Prohibition was enacted than before; Prohibition was counterproductive to its very purpose and intent! And then there are the many shady things that the government got up to in its attempts to stamp out liquor consumption, the most egregious of which was poisoning liquor. So what if a few drunkards died, the thinking went? Let it be a lesson to all the rest that they should forsake forever demon drink!

    The original prohibitions against marijuana, like those against cocaine, were also racially motivated. In the old days, white people generally confined themselves to alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana was perceived more as the drug of choice for blacks and Hispanics, and the laws against marijuana were enacted based on the fear of black and Hispanic men getting hopped up on weed and raping white women.

    In summary, while I obey the law, I think that we would be well served by asking ourselves if this kind of law is really a good idea and is serving any useful purpose? Aside from being a full employment program for prosecuting attorneys, policemen, prison guards, and judges… no, I honestly don’t think that it serves any useful purpose at all, and that the labor and talent that is currently being wasted on the drug war, whether in terms of the thousands of people thrown in prison for smoking a joint or in terms of the people who waste their time, talent, and skill catching, prosecuting, judging, and guarding those so thrown in prison, is a black hole that is draining vital energy away from our country.

  11. 14

    Kim Jong Chillin spews:

    6. Michael spews:
    Last I checked prison rape was still rape and against the rules.

    06/01/2012 AT 10:49 AM

    Rules? in prison? LMFAO….

  12. 16

    Kim Jong Chillin spews:

    15. Michael spews:
    Hey, you’re the one that pointed out that “rules are rules.”

    06/01/2012 AT 1:35 PM

    please, your looking really stupid now.

  13. 18

    rhp6033 spews:

    In trying to reform the economy, we need to look at the various ways in which money is leaving the country. U.S. dollars have been funding the drug trade, in it’s various aspects, to a large extent. The flow of cash outside the borders of the U.S. probably makes a sucking sound as it leaves the country.

    We can’t do much (immediately) about recreational drugs like cocain, meth, and prescription pain medication. But we can easily take the cash out of the drug trade simply by making the manufacture, distribution, and possession of pot legal here, but illegal to import. Suddenly you have a cash crop for use within the U.S. that would take a little over a year to cultivate and then could be taxed by the government and sold in a regulated manner.

    Speaking from someone who rarely even drinks (and then only for business toasts, etc.), it just makes economic sense.

  14. 20


    It looks like several other commenters did a good job of explaining it to you. This isn’t about “following rules”, it about demanding that the rules themselves don’t undermine civil society. If you never ask that question, you end up being taken advantage of by the government.

    One of the cornerstones of patriotism is questioning our government and being vigilant about when it abuses its power. Blindly saying “just follow the rules” is the antithesis of that.

    This actually reminded me of something I saw from Russ Belville yesterday, complaining about some folks who were irate over Bloomberg’s soda ban but have never cared at all about the government going after pot or other drugs. Sorry, but when you stop questioning the government’s actions, it won’t be long until it goes after something you enjoy.

  15. 21

    Liberal Scientist is a a dirty fucking hippie spews:

    This is excellent.

    A complete take-down of an idiot, hypocritical right-winger. And funny too.

    The smug, nasty writing style of author being critiqued is so reminiscent of the smug, nasty trolls around here. What causes humans to be so repugnant?

  16. 22

    Michael spews:

    From the KOS article.

    But I’m confused. Since when do conservatives care about the environment?

    Um… Since Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot started up the National Forest Service. Since Dwight Eisenhower signed the first national air pollution laws. I could go on. The real story on that one is how are current Republican’s are not conservatives and how their lack of care for the planet shows that they’re not conservatives.

  17. 23

    Michael spews:

    Love this part…

    The most obvious one is that you can check out a bike and pedal yourself anywhere your heart desires — so long as it happens to have a docking station for your bike. (The bikes don’t come with locks, and these geniuses haven’t yet eliminated bike theft — even of crappy, fat red ones.)

    Because these bikes have a magic spell placed on them that makes regular bike locks useless on them!

    And this bit.

    So, what happens is, these noble warriors ride their bikes to work in the morning, only to discover that so has everybody else. And all the docking stations are filled up. So they have to wander around in search of a place to dock their bike so they can get to work.

    Hmm… You mean like how it’s sometimes hard to find parking or express buses fill up? Kinda like that?

  18. 24

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @9 “with a lame ass scenario”

    And yours isn’t? What could be more lame ass than locking people up for smoking a joint? What a waste of taxpayer money. There’s such a thing as stupid rules, you know — and we see to get more of them when people like you and your ilk make the rules.

  19. 25

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Here’s a quiz to test your reasoning capacity, i.e. to find out whether you have one. Let’s say a dictator takes over your country and makes a new set of rules. The new rules say you have to round up Jews, confiscate their property, and send them to death camps. Well, no problem, the rules “really are that easy to follow” because they’re clear and unambiguous, right? How well did the defense of “I was just following the rules” work at Nuremberg? Should it have worked? Or is it possible the Great Mother Rabbit Spirit gave you a brain with reasoning capability for a purpose, i.e. so you would apply reasoning to problems instead of just slavishly following “rules” laid down by others? If you want to make a reasoned argument that people who smoke joints should go to jail, fine, make it. But the “shut up and follow the rules” argument won’t work on this blog. We’re not all fifth graders here, just because you are.