Some Advice for Democrats

The Republican Party enjoys the best of all possible worlds. It gets to rail against government while dramatically expanding the power and reach of government. The Democratic Party shouldn't let them get away with it.

Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats both believe in government, if by government we mean the exercise of collective authority. Where they differ is on the purposes for which that authority should be wielded.

Liberals would use government to regulate commercial behavior and collect money from individuals and corporations to finance primarily health, education and welfare programs. Conservatives would use government to regulate personal behavior and collect money from individuals (not corporations) to finance primarily troops, weapons, prisons, surveillance and enforcement.

Their starkly different conceptions of government lead the two parties to starkly different definitions of national security. This distinction became a matter of public record on July 23, when the House of Representatives voted down an amendment that would have stopped federal agents from persecuting those who use medical marijuana.

For those not residing in the 10 states where voters have approved the use of medical marijuana, a little context may be in order. In 1996 California voters easily approved (56-44 percent) a ballot initiative that allows patients to obtain marijuana with a doctor's recommendation to treat the pain of such ailments as cancer, AIDS or glaucoma.

Against the will of the people of California, the federal government has repeatedly sent in troops, uprooted plants, raided medical marijuana distribution centers, threatened doctors who prescribed marijuana and arrested those who were using or distributing medical marijuana.

The party breakdown of the California vote on the House amendment is instructive. Only three of 20 Republican Representatives voted to stop the federal government from invading their state to supersede state law. Thirty-one of the 33 Democratic Representatives voted against big brother. After July 23 it is impossible for the Republicans to argue that theirs is the party that fights to defend the individual against the tyranny of big government.

In 1994 and again in 1998 the citizens of Oregon approved a ballot initiative that allowed physicians to help terminally ill patients to end their lives with dignity. Since 1998 some 130 Oregonians have made use of this hard earned right. In November 2001 Attorney General Ashcroft ordered federal DEA agents to revoke the prescription license of any Oregon doctors who participated. The federal court ruled that Washington had no right to overrule Oregon on this issue. On May 7 the Department of Justice appealed that decision.

Republicans argue that they, not the Democrats, are more capable of defending national security. But they appear to define the term narrowly, even literally. They will defend the nation, that is the State. But they won't defend the individual and personal security.

Shortly after 9/11, with Americans in a state of high anxiety about further terrorist attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft decided to divert significant resources to fight what he clearly regarded as an even more fearsome threat: marijuana pipes.

Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter included raids on the homes and places of business of drug paraphernalia manufacturers and distributors. At least 60 people have been arrested for supplying pipes, bongs and roach clips. As DEA spokesman Will Glaspy told reporter Deroy Murdock, "Including federal, state and local officials, our estimate is about 1,200 were involved, just on that day." Prosecutors from 11 U.S. attorneys offices from southern California to western Pennsylvania were involved as were more than 100 U.S. Marshals. Justice spokesman Drew Wade proudly summarized the operation, "It was just exhaustive."

At a press conference to announce the arrests, Ashcroft declared, "The illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge."

That's an odd use of the verb "invade." Apparently the Attorney General believes that sending federal troops into California homes to handcuff residents who are growing plants to alleviate their pain is not an invasion, but when a resident returns from the store with a bong in a shopping bag, that is.

Republicans define liberty as the ability not to pay taxes. But most Americans would embrace a more commonsensical definition of liberty: the right to be left alone. The right of privacy. An adamant conviction that Americans are not guaranteed a right to be left alone is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Supreme Court candidates favored by President Bush. Justice Antonin Scalia is the Presiden'ts most favored.

Many expect he will be appointed Chief Justice if Rehnquist retires. In his recent vitriolic dissent to the majority ruling regarding the right of individuals to engage in consensual sexual activity in the privacy of their bedrooms Justice Scalia thundered, "There is no right to liberty under the Due Process Clause."

The Democrats have a winning issue if they run against the Republican concept of the State.


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