The Battle Lines Of The Culture Wars

Ramesh Ponnuru makes plain how they have and haven’t shifted:

On same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana, public attitudes have, in fact, changed. A majority has gone from opposing to supporting both of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that opposing them is going to hurt Republicans: It depends on, among other things, whether there’s a large pool of voters who would be open to Republican candidates if only they supported gay marriage. It does, however, mean that Republicans are going to talk less about these issues.

On the other hand, the public has not shifted on abortion, which has been a politically important social issue for much longer than same-sex marriage or legal pot have been. When pollsters for CBS ask people whether abortion should be “generally available,” or Gallup asks whether it should be “legal only under certain circumstances,” the answers look nearly identical to what they were a decade ago. The same is true when Gallup asks whether people consider themselves “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”

Isn’t it obvious why? Marriage equality and legal cannabis cannot plausibly be described as harming anyone. They’re both classically libertarian, live-and-let-live initiatives. But abortion touches on something very different. Many people believe (and I am one of them) that abortion doesn’t just affect another human life, but ends it. The individual liberty argument – so potent with marriage and cannabis – is checked by a legitimate concern for the unborn child. That’s why the younger generation is close to unanimous on cannabis and marriage but still divided over abortion. Kevin Williamson is in agreement:

What conservatives often fail to emphasize, I think, is that abortion is simply in a different category of issues than is gay marriage or marijuana legalization.

Not that those latter issues are not important — they certainly are — but they are not life-and-death issues. The marijuana debate is about how much we think it is worth intervening in other people’s lives to police the use of a relatively mild intoxicant; the abortion debate is about what it means to be a human being. To that extent, the entire idea of “the social issues” is probably more harmful than helpful. Abortion and gay marriage are not even roughly comparable.

Putting abortion aside, Reihan argues “that Republicans are, in theory at least, in a stronger position than Democrats on a variety of other social issues.” For instance, he urges conservatives to take the lead on drug policy:

One can easily imagine conservatives arguing that the chief federal concern in regulating cannabis and other controlled substances is in containing the negative interstate spillovers associated with their use, and so if states succeed in containing these spillovers, they ought to be given wide berth to craft their own regulatory regimes — an argument I’ve gleaned from Mark Kleiman of UCLA and Will Baude of the University of Chicago Law School, in somewhat different forms. Similarly, conservatives might try experimenting with, say, empowering states to lower the drinking age, provided (again) they make a convincing case that they can contain negative spillovers. For example, a state might lower its drinking age while also increasing its taxes on alcohol in an effort to control binge use.

I can’t confidently say that being the first mover on one of these issues would necessarily redound to the GOP’s advantage. But it would certainly change the conversation, and break the GOP out of its defensive crouch.

I can’t say I’m very hopeful on that score. The Puritans remain very strong in the base of that party.

The Stoned-Driving Crisis That Wasn’t

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Legalization doesn’t appear to have had much of an impact on roadway safety in Colorado:

Here’s a month-by-month comparison of highway fatalities in Colorado through the first seven months of this year and last year. For a more thorough comparison, I’ve also included the highest fatality figures for each month since 2002, the lowest for each month since 2002 and the average for each month since 2002. As you can see, roadway fatalities this year are down from last year, and down from the 13-year average. Of the seven months so far this year, five months saw a lower fatality figure this year than last, two months saw a slightly higher figure this year, and in one month the two figures were equal.

One longstanding theory is that more pot use will mean less alcohol use. You can’t infer than from this data, but it sure looks encouraging. Can you imagine what prohibition will look like in retrospect if it emerges that legalizing weed saves lots of lives? And there’s more good news for the Rocky Mountain State: Matt Steinglass got high in both Amsterdam and Boulder and came away touting the latter experience:

I smoked the joint sitting on the patio of the house where I was staying [in Colorado] that evening. This, rather than the issue of legality, is probably why it was more pleasurable to smoke in Boulder than in Amsterdam, even though buying the product had been much more clinical. It was a starry night, and the house was on a wide hillside facing west; the still masses of the Rockies registered as deeper darknesses along the horizon. At its best, smoking pot gives one an expanded spatial awareness and a sense of freedom, but in Amsterdam the atmosphere had been wrong. … Amsterdam has always tried to create a sense of freedom within the rules and infrastructure of a dense urban port-city landscape. But the open, no-limits sprawl of Boulder, edging up into the empty mountains, seemed a better fit for that mind-enlarging ganja feeling.

But if geography matters so much, why is Rhode Island the highest state in America?

Much more Dish on stoned driving here.

The Grey Lady Endorses Legal Weed, Ctd

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In response to the NYT’s pro-pot announcement, Nate Silver calculates that around 77 percent of Americans who fit the NYT editorial board’s demographic profile support legalization:

[P]eople with this demographic profile are somewhere around 25 or 30 percentage points more supportive of marijuana legalization than the average American. That implies that back in 2000, when only about 30 percent of Americans supported legalization, perhaps 55 or 60 percent of these people did. The margin of error on this estimate is fairly high — about 10 percent — but not enough to call into question that most people like those on the Times’ editorial board have privately supported legalization for a long time. The question is why it took them so long to take such a stance publicly.

And if you want to know why no one watches Meet The Press, check out their boomer pundit-fest above in which they could find no proponent of legalization at all, along with the familiar condescension and dated “jokes”. Nate’s too right that “there’s a particularly large gap between elite and popular opinion on marijuana policy”:

Consider that, according to The Huffington Post, none of the 50 U.S. governors or the 100 U.S. senators had endorsed fully legal recreational marijuana as of this April — even though some of them are very liberal on other issues, and even though an increasing number of them represent states where most voters support legalizing pot.

Perhaps some of this is smart politics — older Americans are less likely to support marijuana legalization and more likely to vote. But there’s also a more cynical interpretation: racial minorities, low-income Americans and young people are disproportionately more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than senators or newspaper editorial board members (or their sons and daughters). The elites may be setting the policy, but they’re out of touch with its effects.

Update from a reader:

Like you, I wholly believe that we shouldn’t shy away from disturbing images and videos when they’re reporting things that have actually taken place. But for God’s sake, did you have to post that horrible, terrible, terrifying, nauseating video? I’m speaking, of course, about the cadre of grey-haired idiots debating pot legalization on Meet the Press, a program I swear to God I forgot existed.

So, c’mon, trigger warning next time? Something simple, like, “Warning: this video may cause you to vomit all over yourself uncontrollably.”

You know what’s good for nausea? Another reader gets serious:

That MTP clip is unreal.  If I were the father or son or spouse of one of the millions of marijuana users whose life has been irrevocably ruined by The War On Drugs and I saw those comfortable Beltway insiders having a silly pun-fest while wondering what the rush is on legalization, I would probably have thrown my laptop out the window in anger and disgust.  Fuck them.

The Grey Lady Endorses Legal Weed

Over the weekend, the NYT editorial board declared that the “federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana”:

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

Well, now that Sarah Palin has picked the online subscription route and the NYT has embraced marijuana legalization, our work here at the Dish is nearly done. But sheesh, the whole hoop-la over there about it almost makes you think they’re ahead of the curve, as opposed to about twenty years too late. Almost twenty years since National Review endorsed it! Nonetheless, it’s not nothing:

It is worth noting this is the exact same way alcohol prohibition ended. The 21st amendment gave states the power to decide how alcohol is treated within their borders. While many states ended their own alcohol prohibitions right after some states keep their bans on alcohol going for years and even decades later. It wasn’t until 1966 when Mississippi become the last state to end its prohibition.

Hamilton Nolan needles the Times for being behind the times:

The only reason the Times gets attention for expressing this opinion is because it is the Times. This is not thought leadership. It is thought following. The Times’ endorsement of legal weed is remarkable not because we look to the Times for new or thought-provoking opinions, but because the Times is such a self-conscious, careerist, and cautious institution that if they want to legalize drugs, you know that shit is really mainstream now. It is the same sort of importance that you would attach to the Republican Party endorsing the legalization of marijuana.

Yep, there has been a sea change:

There is a shift going on in this debate, and it isn’t just that mainstream politicians and newspapers can now support legalization. It’s also that the central question of the debate has changed, and changed to what legalization advocates have been asking for a long time. Instead of asking “Is smoking marijuana good or bad?”, we’re now asking “Is marijuana prohibition better or worse than the alternative?”

The latter question doesn’t lend itself as easily to scare tactics or “This is your brain on drugs” rhetoric. And don’t get me wrong—the effect of marijuana on individuals is something we should keep talking about and researching. … But the policy debate should be about, well, policy. And policy is always about choices.

Mark Kleiman, as is his wont, wishes for a different sort of cannabis legalization:

As a matter of practical politics, our only choices may be a badly-implemented prohibition or a badly-implemented legalization.  (If so, I’m inclined to try the Devil I don’t know.)  So far, my attempts to put political and organizational muscle behind the idea of smart legalization have merely illustrated the wisdom of Ralph Yarborough’s maxim, “They ain’t nuthin’ in the middle of the road but yaller lines and dead armadillas.”  I don’t find life as political roadkill especially uncomfortable, but it does get frustrating. It’s not just that continued prohibition and commercial legalization are both bad ideas; it’s that the arguments for those two bad ideas leave no media space, or mindspace, for discussion of the good ideas that might lie between them.