How Republicans Can Save Themselves—As the Party of Legal Weed
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Dear Republicans: Believe it or not (and you won’t), I am here to help. There is a path that can lead the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower out of the political wilderness, a path away from the nightmarish dead-end coalition of white racists and plutocrat zillionaires and back toward national relevance. It isn’t the path of fire-breathing ideological purity and permanent obstructionism and wild fantasies about defunding the entire liberal welfare state. I know that stuff feels good to you right now, but it feels good in roughly the same way that taking a massive drug overdose feels good, for the first minute or two. Sure, you can keep telling yourselves that the fact that you will still hold a majority in one house of Congress after November (and maybe both of them) means that one day you will “take America back,” and that you have a long-term future outside Wyoming and the Confederacy. But you know that funny feeling in your stomach? That’s you knowing better.
Despite the estimable case built by Sam Tanenhaus in last week’s New York Times Magazine, the path I speak of is also not the path of “reform conservatism” and the child tax credit and the talking points on Marco Rubio’s iPad and whatever Ramesh Ponnuru writes about. Most of you know that too. Even trying to struggle through Tanenhaus’ article from a disinterested or analytical perspective – like, have any of these people got game? – I could feel your pain. Some of the ideas raised by Ponnuru and Yuval Levin and the rest of those soporific Beltway wonks with bad suits may be valid, for all I know. But who cares? They are so boring that no one can really understand them, or really wants to.
No, the path to redemption for the Grand Old Party is not boring. It leads through the verdant fields of cheeba. It is Route 420, traveling coast to coast from Humboldt County to backwoods Maine. The chronic dysfunction of American politics demands a Chronic solution. Republicans have a window of opportunity – and it’s pretty much right now — to take a step ahead of the historical curve and seize the marijuana moment.
In the wake of Washington and Colorado, we all know legalization is coming; it’s just a question of when and how. For the GOP, it’s time to put down the gun and pick up the bong. (Although there’s definitely a constituency that loves them both.) Hypothetically, conservatives could pivot from weed-as-drug to weed-as-commodity, a commodity that creates new opportunities for entrepreneurs, big corporations and venture capitalists alike, and turns thousands of illicit small business proprietors into taxpayers and “job creators.” Let’s face it, “legal weed and low taxes” is a winning platform, and one that could revitalize the Republican brand without violating it in any fundamental way. Millions of younger voters are out there for the taking on this issue, and GOP candidates who embraced the cause would become competitive almost overnight in many places where they’re irrelevant today.
This is not an entirely new idea, to be sure. I can remember getting high with a group of libertarian activists outside the Houston Astrodome while reporting from the notorious “cultural war” Republican convention of 1992. The Ron Paul faction of the Republican Party has favored legalization or decriminalization of drugs all along, and potential 2016 candidate Rand Paul is pretty waffly on weed himself. But you don’t have to be one of the Republicans who wants to abolish the income tax and fire the entire federal bureaucracy to grasp the wisdom of this position. Most in the GOP, to be sure, can only view it wistfully, as if through a potent haze of seventh-generation unsexed Congolese sinsemilla smoke, since the idea demands a philosophical and generational shift within the party that simply isn’t going to happen.