Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cabbage, Roses, & Weed

Federal policy toward marijuana criminalization is a distressing example of John McCain's fake maverickness:

In April 2007 he [McCain] said, "I will let states decide that issue." But he quickly abandoned that position, and this year he said he'd continue the DEA's medical marijuana raids, declaring, "It is a national issue and not a [state] issue." By contrast, McCain's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, has promised to stop the raids.

McCain's medical marijuana position contradicts his professed allegiance to federalism. "The federal government was intended to have limited scope," he says on his website, vowing to appoint judges who "respect the proper role of local and state governments."
To label this "fair-weather federalism" as the cited article does is to bury an accusation of hypocrisy in a nice turn of phrase, and that charge is valid: it is hypocritical for self-styled conservatives like John McSame to sing the glories of "state's rights" and "local control" only to yank back control from the locals when states protect freedoms they'd prefer to see quashed. What H.L. Mencken said of idealists applies equally well to opportunistic ideologues:
An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
But this would fail as a defense of pragmatism without noting that the deeper point is not hypocrisy but the substantive merits, and on the substantive merits, marijuana should be decriminalized, and in all jurisdictions, federal, state, county, local. There is simply no justification for putting people in jail or imposing fines for its use or possession. None. Zip. Nada. It should be treated under the law the same as alcohol is treated; I have never encountered an even slightly convincing argument otherwise.

And no, for whatever it is worth, while I went to Reed, I am not a pothead (not that there's anything wrong with that), and I don't think medical marijuana holds any promise for any of my current mental or physical ailments, with the possible exception of 'poor overall attitude.' I mostly know pot as the main constituent of the ambient air inside the Rush and AC/DC concerts I attended as a teenager. I can't be sure I'm completely past the buzz I caught from all that.

On the subject of federalism, the verbal pivot point of so much bickering in US politics, I think Matt Yglesias expressed it very well:
In practice, arguments about federalism are almost universally made opportunistically. People favor devolving power to the states when they think doing so will produce policies they approve of, and people favor concentrating power in Washington when they think doing so will produce policies they approve of. Everyone knows this. And while one might condemn the hypocrisy of it all, this always strikes me as a good thing to be hypocritical about. I don't really have a principled view about the appropriate division of powers between states and the federal government and don't really intend to develop one.
Here, here. Cabbages make the better soup.

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