I refuse to believe that Matt Welch doesn’t already know all of what I’m about to write already.
Obama Loses His “Cool”
With his glib dismissal of pot legalization, the president looks less like the man, and more like The Man.
When the generation of Americans under the age of 30 gets around to realizing that this handsome young president might not be nearly as cool as they’d hoped, it won’t be hard to affix a date on when the milk began to sour. It was March 26, 2009, when Barack Obama conducted a live town hall press conference featuring questions submitted online.
Near the beginning of this hip and mildly groundbreaking interaction, the president said this: “We took votes about which questions were gonna be asked.…Three point five million people voted. I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high, uh, and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve, uh, the economy and job creation. And, uh (chuckles), uh, I don’t know what this says about the online audience (laughs), but I just want—I don’t want people to think that—this was a fairly popular question; we want to make sure that it was answered. Uh, the answer is, no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.”
The live audience laughed and applauded. The kids online? Not so much.
To those in a hurry, let me summarize my response: If you’re surprised, you have no right to be.
I just deleted about a paragraph and a half about my own opinions on marijuana, on the grounds that it was both irrelevant, and getting increasingly convoluted. Here’s the (very simple) replacement: while Matt Welch – and I – may think that a certain revision of our War on Some Drugs policy may be in order, the President doesn’t. The President never has. Everything gotten so far has been low-hanging fruit. Ending raids on medical marijuana clubs? Easy PR: people don’t like seeing terminal cancer patients thrown in jail because they’re trying to to treat their nausea*. Appointing Gil Kerlikowske as drug czar? Also easy PR; Kerlikowske has a good name among pro-legalization forces primarily because he enforces the law. “Equal-sentencing legislation” for regular/crack cocaine? Not quite as easy, but then, the administration isn’t actually really doing anything concrete to bring about that particular bit of legislation, either.
Keeping the ban on funding needle exchanges? …Yeah, that’s where you start wondering how far this administration’s willing to go on drug issues. Then you contemplate the fact that the President picked Joe Biden to be his Vice President, and then you stop wondering. When you go with the man who pushed the RAVE Act (and who got it later passed without debate) in the 1990s and who lobbied for a Drug Czar in the 1980s for your running mate, it seems exceedingly likely that at the very least you are fundamentally unconcerned with the opinions of people who are pro-legalization. Which, given that the large numbers of them voted Democratic anyway, seems to be an attitude that was justified by events.
But there’s absolutely no reason to be surprised by any of this. Polls or not, supposed undercurrent of normalization spreading through the country or not, righteousness of the cause or not… the brutal political truth is that any serious reform on the War of Some Drugs runs the risk of a net loss of popularity for the reformer. How much of a risk, and how significant it would be, is open to question; that they are measurable risks is not. Therefore, the President will not engage in any serious reform.
Hey, if you don’t like that, don’t blame me: blame the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. It’s not my fault that we term-limited out a guy who didn’t run the country with both eyes on the polls…
*In this case, it doesn’t matter whether pot helps with that or not; the public believes that it does, and the public errs on the side of the cancer patient in disputes of this nature.
Crossposted to Moe Lane.