Here‘s an encouraging quote:
You know, one of the areas where I think Libertarians may be right is about the legalization of drugs. There would be less of them with no profit motive for their sale. Less money for guns. Fewer innocent bystanders would die. Who knows?
That’s Roger Ebert in his review of Harry Brown.
And OK, he’s just one data point, but personal experience tells me a lot of people think like Ebert.
There are two important things to note here: Ebert is ready to try something new on drug policy, and he associates the Libertarian Party with the alternative view. That sounds to me like a golden opportunity.
The political structure is changing. I remember way back in 1996 hearing Bay Buchanan predict the demise of the Republican Party – not because she’s not a Republican, but because she thought the Republican Alliance wasn’t ideologically solid and therefore couldn’t hold. I found it convincing, and I think signs that her prediction is coming true are all around us. The Republican brand is seriously tarnished – no one disputes this. And whatever predictions for a comeback there are rarely rest on the idea of Republican success. It’s either that the Republicans will transform themselves – get away from social and national greatness issues and move toward fiscal restraint issues – or else that Obama is just so bad that people will vote for the opposition out of disgust. What’s clear in all the “optimists'” scenarios is that the old Republican Party has lost its appeal.
I think the Libertarian Party should be doing more to edge them out. The Republican Party is down, so let’s kick them. Yes, in the short term this is dangerous: Democrats will get their way, and “their way” is definitely not what we want. But in the long term I think it’s the right thing to do. The Republicans were never friends of liberty either, and the Libertarian Party needs an “in.” The general strategy is to deliberately divide the right and hope that we come out on top.
And in that vein I think we could do worse than making a real issue out of the War on Drugs.
Consider the benefits. First, it’s an argument that you can’t lose on rational grounds – at least as far as marijuana legalization is concerned. There is simply no rational reason to oppose legalizing marijuana, and everyone knows it – and to the extent that everyone knows it I think all opposition to marijuana legalization is either misinformed, personal, or deceitful; if it were confronted head on it would collapse like the house of cards it is. All it takes is someone in a nationally televized debate telling a couple of annecdotes about ruined lives and police abuses (preferably involving mistaken identity cases to hammer home how dangerous the War on Drugs is to all of us) and making clear that his opponent considers them “acceptable costs.” And “acceptable costs” in the service of WHAT? It’s not like there is even a single number anywhere showing that the War on Drugs has achieved anything in terms of reducing dependency. The opponent would have nothing to say. Second, the War on Drugs has already been tried and allowed to fail. One hedge that the “pro” crowd can’t resort to on this one is that we never really tried it – because we’ve tried it with gusto. There aren’t any policy tweaks we haven’t attempted, and there’s no suspicion that the police haven’t been doing their job. No two ways about it: it clearly doesn’t work. The End. Third and most importantly, though, is that there are plenty of people like Roger Ebert out there who are starting to warm to the idea – and they associate the alternative with the Libertarian Party. It’s maybe the ONLY area where Libertarians have political capital; why not exploit it?
In my fantasy, the Libertarian Party makes the deficit and the War on Drugs its two main issues (and forgets all about irrelevant sideshows like gay marriage and the War on Terror). The War on Drugs gets us attention; the trumpeting of fiscal restraint convinces people we’re serious – and a serious alternative to business as usual in Washington. And on an issue that is rapidly eating up column space to boot.
I can’t think of a good reason not to try this. Just go in with guns blazing, target Republicans this time, leverage the War on Drugs for attention and fiscal restraint for solidarity. It’s not like we have anything to lose.