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January 26, 2014

GOP leaders now getting what Mitt missed: drug war reform may make good politics (as well as being principled) for small-government conservatives

Jindal and perryTwo years ago, just when Mitt Romney was finally sewing up the Republican nomination and could pivot his campaign toward wooing general election voters, I wrote this post suggesting it might be shrewd for Romney to consider trying to appeal to independents, young voters and minorities by talking up sentencing and drug war reforms. I followed up these ideas via this April 2012 Daily Beast commentary suggesting Romney should consider embracing "what Right On Crime calls the 'conservative case' for criminal-justice reform, and in doing so appeal to groups of independent and minority voters (especially young ones) while demonstrating a true commitment to some core conservative values about the evils of big government."

Two years later, it is (too) easy for me to assert that Mitt Romney might be preparing his own State of the Union address now had he taken my advice on this front.  Nevertheless, I am hardly the only one who came to see that Mitt missed the boat with younger and minority voters.  Romney himself commented that his campaign "fell short ... in being able to speak openly and effectively to minority populations," and this post-election post-mortem done by RNC Chair Reince Priebus highlighted that "young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the [GOP] represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country."

These 2012 issues all came to mind again when I read this interesting new post by Alex Kriet over at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.  The post is titled "More politicians backing marijuana reform," and it notes that "the past few days have seen a number of prominent Republican politicians express support for easing marijuana laws." Alex provides excerpts from recent comments by Governors Christie, Jindal and Perry and noted that they are "three Republicans rumored to be considering 2016 presidential bids [who are all] expressing support for easing drug laws."

Of course, even among leading conservative voices, these three prominent GOP Governors are coming a bit late to the sentencing and drug war reform table.  The Right on Crime movement has now been going strong for more than three years, with conservative stalwarts like Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Grover Norquist signing on to this statement of principles that "we must also be tough on criminal justice spending ... [to reconsider our] reliance on prisons ... [which can] have the unintended consequence of hardening nonviolent, low-risk offenders — making them a greater risk to the public than when they entered."  And, two of the most prominent elected Tea Partiers, Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, have been co-sponsors and prominent supports of bill to reform some of the harshest and most rigid aspects of the federal sentencing system. 

Regular readers know I have long asserted that anyone truly and deeply committed to oft-stressed conservative principles of constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise should be troubled by the size and power of modern American criminal justice systems, especially at the federal level. But Alex's astute observation that many GOP leaders considered viable national candidates for 2016 are now talking up sentencing and drug war reforms suggests that Republican leaders are now getting what Mitt missed — GOP talk of serious criminal justice reform (especially at the federal level) may now be very smart politics as well as being in keeping with prominent conservative principles.

Some recent and older related posts:

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Comments

Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the opposition, and this is one of them. I salute the Democrats who want a drug-dependent America for their excellence is spotting useful Republican idiots -- a growing group.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 27, 2014 1:41:32 AM

So, Bill, are you calling Jeb Bush, Newt, Norquist, Christie, Jindal, Perry, Mike Lee and Rand Paul all idiots?

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 27, 2014 6:34:10 AM

Doug --

If I were to call them idiots, I'd be lagging far behind your many Democratic pals, who have called them idiots and a whole lot worse for years. Who was ridiculing Perry for being a dunce? Was that the Dems? Who was lambasting then-Speaker Gingrich as a crypto-fascist for putting out a "contract on America"? Who sneered at Bobby Jindal for giving a feckless response to one of Obama's SOTU addresses? Who said that Christie is a thug and a gangster (and a butterball)? Who said that Paul is a Tea Party extremist eager to pull apart the safety net and let the poor starve?

Was that me?

And trotting out a member of the reviled (in Dem circles) Bush family to support the druggie agenda is a true hoot.

Not that that's the worst of it. Maybe you can bring back the ever-classy Martin Bashir to tell us more about what should be done in Sarah Palin's mouth.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 27, 2014 9:52:57 AM

Bill, I know well that lots of Ds call GOP leaders lots of terrible things, and Rs likewise like to call their political opponents names. But it is not others' opinions I am trying understand better, it is yours given that you usually favor Rs.

So, can you answer my question rather than discussing the views of others? I will ask again for clarity: Are you calling all these notable GOP leaders, Jeb Bush, Newt, Norquist, Christie, Jindal, Perry, Mike Lee and Rand Paul all idiots?

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 27, 2014 10:05:31 AM

Doug --

I am not calling them idiots in the sense of having very low IQ's. I am calling them "useful" idiots for the druggie agenda. The idiom "useful idiot" is well known (including, I am sure, to you), and denotes people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.

This distinguishes these useful Republican idiots from the ACTUAL Democratic idiot -- some Congressman from Georgia who said that we shouldn't station troops on Guam because it was an island and would tip over. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjG958lZ1KI

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 27, 2014 11:19:20 AM

Let's be clear here. The "independent voter" tag is shrinking, mainly because independents are, by definition, uncommitted to their values. Conservative republicans have no reason to "woo" them; moderate republicans who do woo them do it at their own peril as RINO-hunting is definitely in season this year.

But back to the voter numbers: The real focus on change is coming from the so-called "far right," or the Tea Party adherents. The TP is actually made up of two elements: the small L libertarians and the social conservatives. The small L libertarians are against vast amounts of money disbursed because of constitutional issues against criminals, while the social conservatives are against it mainly because of cost.

The libertarian elements, though, are being confused for independents, which is being spun by the leftist media. This is why such a partisan "paradox" with regard to criminal justice issues exist in the first place.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jan 27, 2014 12:15:37 PM

Bill, thanks for this interesting explanation, which leads to the next questions: what makes you think all these notable GOP leaders --- i.e., Jeb Bush, Newt, Norquist, Christie, Jindal, Perry, Mike Lee and Rand Paul (just to name some of the most prominent ones) --- are "not fully aware of" the goals of those urging marijuana reform and/or scaling back the big-government criminal justice aspects of the modern drug war?

To the extent you believe you are more in the know than this GOP "useful idiot" leaders here, I would be very grateful if you would ASAP in these comments (1) articulate what are "all the real goals" of those urging legal reforms to scale back the drug war, and (2) explain why so many notable GOP leaders have become so "usefully idiotic" of late.

Bill, I am VERY interested in your answer/insights to query #1 because I fear I may too now be one of the useful idiots being used cynically by others (though I am not sure who the others are). I am so VERY interested in your answer/insights to query #2 because if it was so easy for the "druggie agenda" to get all these GOP leaders in line, I may start believing/fearing that Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or the Koch Brothers or some other mysterious puppet-master is also playing all these folks for useful idiots in other arenas.

Please, please understand, Bill, that I am not trying to play any game of "gotcha" here. Rather, as you know, I have long been asserting that true small-government, states-rights conservatives had to someday question the huge federal investment in the modern drug war. (Of course, big government conservatives can and do love the drug war and understandably want it made even bigger and bigger in order to get at those evil druggies by whatever freedom-denying means necessary.)

If you were to criticize all these GOP leaders for carrying their commitment to small government too far, I would understand this concern coming from you as a big federal government guy. But your useful idiot comments suggest you see some vast and clever kind of druggie conspiracy at play turning all significant GOP leaders into Manchurian candidates supportive of the "druggie agenda." Perhaps this is what is going on, but if so why should I then listen or trust anything said by these folks?

Posted by: Doug B | Jan 27, 2014 1:56:01 PM

Prof. Berman/Knight:
Although vastly more libertarians lean conservative than liberal, the preponderance of Taxed Enough Already Party advocates are Judeo-Christian traditionalists
who are in love with the Founding values of this nation.

I was invited to the 1st-ever Tea Party event [which was launched to criticise the Bush bailout] by a modest, trailer-dwelling libertarian,
whose all-encompassing thrust remains smaller government, and lower taxes.

Nevertheless, as neither the Federalist John Adams, nor the proto-Republican-Democrat Samuel Adams, were remotely supportive of an anarchical, ‘legalise prostitution & abortion’ society, the multitude of Tea Party enthusiasts are far from libertarian, morally.

Therefore, drug legalization is not uncritically favoured by the Tea Party, despite their belief that state and federal authorities ought not be
forcing citizens to bake a cake for a homosexual “wedding”, pay for abortions, or preventing a child from reading his Bible during breaks at school.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 27, 2014 2:27:18 PM

Doug --

"Bill, thanks for this interesting explanation, which leads to the next questions: what makes you think all these notable GOP leaders --- i.e., Jeb Bush, Newt, Norquist, Christie, Jindal, Perry, Mike Lee and Rand Paul (just to name some of the most prominent ones) --- are "not fully aware of" the goals of those urging marijuana reform and/or scaling back the big-government criminal justice aspects of the modern drug war?"

Because not a single one of them favors legalization of hard drugs, which is the ultimate aim here. Indeed you yourself, one of the more honest and candid backers of pot legalization, have said in prior posts that you support a wholesale rollback of the war on drugs, and would allow state experimentation with all-out legalization of everything.

Also, because, with the gigantic deficit that your pals the Big Government Democrats keep building, and the obliteration of individual decision-making about what medical insurance you want to buy, Republicans don't think that much about pot. They have bigger fish to fry, most of which involve attacking the REAL source of big government, to wit, the welfare/entitlement/administrative state.

"To the extent you believe you are more in the know than this GOP "useful idiot" leaders here, I would be very grateful if you would ASAP in these comments (1) articulate what are "all the real goals" of those urging legal reforms to scale back the drug war, and (2) explain why so many notable GOP leaders have become so "usefully idiotic" of late."

As to (1), see above. As to (2) because they are, like most other politicians, opportunists who need to change the subject when they get in hot water, see, e.g., Gov. Christie and "Bridgegate." Of course this is not true of all of them. Rand Paul, for example, is a genuine fruitcake libertarian who buys the whole package, which includes, among other lunatic ideas, abandoning America's role in the world and retreating to Fortress America.

"Bill, I am VERY interested in your answer/insights to query #1 because I fear I may too now be one of the useful idiots being used cynically by others (though I am not sure who the others are)."

Have no fear. In order to be a useful Republican idiot, you have to be (1) a Republican and (2) an idiot, and you are neither.

"I am so VERY interested in your answer/insights to query #2 because if it was so easy for the "druggie agenda" to get all these GOP leaders in line, I may start believing/fearing that Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or the Koch Brothers or some other mysterious puppet-master is also playing all these folks for useful idiots in other arenas."

First, as you should know by now, it is I, not the Koch brothers, who is the Rasputin of the Republican Party. Second, the druggie agenda has a long, long way to go to "get all these GOP leaders in line," since the Republican Party is remains overwhelmingly opposed to a drug-dependent America.

I'll make two final points. For those, like (I believe) you to criticize big government, while routinely supporting candidates and causes that, outside the criminal area, make that government bigger and bigger, year in and year out, is, uh, a tad hypocritical. The ONLY thing you criticize about the government is criminal enforcement and sentencing; the true drivers of Big Government -- welfare/entitlement/dependency programs -- escape your comments unscathed. So which of us is really for Big Government?

Second, it's passing strange that you virtually always look to the GOP, and almost never the Dems, to advance the druggie agenda. Why, instead of going on about that political superpower Grover Norquist, don't you write the White House chief of staff to get Obama to propose, in the SOTU tomorrow, the repeal of the CSA? He's the President of the United States, not Grover.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 27, 2014 3:44:12 PM

Just want to recap and clarify, Bill. Do you think the goal of drug war reform advocates is "legalization of hard drugs" or a "drug-dependent America"? There is, of course, a big difference because one could be merely a supporter of freedom and morally favor ending modern criminal justice drug prohibitions, whereas one could be an investor in Big Pharma and thereby economically favor a "drug-dependent America."

As always, the already-legal drugs of alcohol, tobacco and sugar are good ways to get clarity on these matters. I surmise, for freedom reasons (or perhaps just because of history), you would not want former Mayor Bloomberg and other do-gooders making it a crime to have a glass of wine or smoke a cigar or enjoy a Big Gulp. But I also suspect it would be wrong to say you are rooting for a alcohol-dependent America or a tobacco-dependent America or a sugar-dependent America (though, if you have stock in inBev or RJ Reynolds or Coca-Cola, maybe you do root for these dependencies). So the fact that a freedom-oriented person (like me or Rand Paul) is worried government prohibitions can often do more harm than good does not mean that we want all of American society to use their freedoms poorly.

The reason I worry more about big government in the CJ system then elsewhere is likely based in my Jewish heritage and the fear that when big government uses its laws to hurt/kill citizens it is always more worrisome than when big government uses its laws to try to help/feed its citizens. I know you think the big CJ system through the drug war and other means helps more people than it hurts, but of course that is exactly what folks on the left say about the part of the big govt they like. Candidly, I generally think nothing the government does (especially the federal government) is as efficient or as honest as what takes place in local/private arenas, so I am a critic of big government generally. But my day job (and this blog) is about criminal justice issues, not other government issues (though, as you should know, I also disfavor using big government to deny folks the right to use guns that kill/harm a lot more innocent people than drugs.)

Finally, you also know I have be assailing Obama's failure to use his powers to scale back the drug war since the day he was inaugurated. Check out my inaugural day post from 2008 in which I urged Obama to grant clemencies to those punished too harshly in the drug war (like Weldon Angelos). I also have been trying to push Ds to have courage on these issues for many years. But, just like Prez Nixon could get more done in China than could Prez Johnson 40+ years ago, so too will Bush, Newt, Norquist, Christie, Jindal, Perry, Lee and Paul be able to get stuff done here at this political moment much more efficiently that Prez Obama.

Other points aside, I want to know if you think the core agenda of reformers is "legalization of hard drugs" or a "drug-dependent America." Perhaps you think these go hand-in-hand --- that more freedom here necessarily means much more harm from freedom --- but I do not.

Posted by: Doug B | Jan 27, 2014 5:06:06 PM

What is the "druggie agenda"?

If one believes that individuals, rather than government, should decide what substances & plants individuals may put in their bodies, is one thereby advocating the "druggie agenda"?

Posted by: Jeff Aldridge | Jan 27, 2014 6:16:48 PM

Jeff Aldridge --

The druggie agenda is advocating increased accessibility to, and therefore increased use of, dangerous drugs that are currently illegal. Increased use includes increased use by minors; although druggie agenda backers usually say they would forbid access to minors, we all know, from the present so-called "forbidden access" of minors to booze, that, in fact, increased use by adults is certain to entail massively increased, although theoretically illicit, use by minors as well. That will mean all the harms of drug use, which are substantial, and lethal thousands of times each year, will be visited on young people, who are relatively ill-informed and reckless.

The fact that the druggie agenda effectively includes both increased use by minors, and greater access to very dangerous hard drugs, is why the shrewder of the druggie agenda backers do quite a bit of the ole shake-and-jive when the latter topics arise. What that means specifically is that they are generally very reluctant to admit that pot is just the stalking horse for heroin and the rest of it (Doug is one of the exceptions); and that they preposterously pretend that laws against use by minors will be any more successful than present laws forbidding minors access to booze.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 27, 2014 8:55:52 PM

Doug --

One thing at the outset: I am delighted to see that, after all these years of posing as an advocate of small, liberty-promoting government -- and painting me as the Big Government Lover -- you now acknowledge that you favor expanding the part of government that, VASTLY MORE THAN THE ENTIRE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, raises taxes, spending, borrowing, nannyism, regulation, hecktoring and overall social control, including, now, government dictation that the health insurance you wanted, and the doctor you chose, are "substandard" and will be replaced with whatever Commissar -- ooops, make that Secretary -- Kathleen Sebelius wants as of this week.

Excellent!

This acknowledgement puts our debate in an entirely new light.

I would point out, though, that the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts, rather than supports, your view that the relatively tiny part of government I support hurts people, while the gargantuan part of government you support helps them. Specifically, the evidence shows that the percentage of the population in the work force -- after all these trillions in social spending -- is at a 40-year low; the percentage living below the poverty line is at an-all time high; the number on food stamps is also at an all-time high and essentially through the roof; the sustained and long term unemployment rate is at record levels; and, during this "helping not hurting" administration, median income is down two or three thousand dollars from what it was at the end of the last administration.

Is that evidence of helping or hurting?

On the other side: With, and in significant part because of, the increased use of incarceration, crime is down 50% in the last generation. What that means is the CRIME VICTIMIZATION is down by that same amount.

OK, quick now, what segment of the population is disproportionately victimized by crime?

Right you are! THE POOR.

And when crime is suppressed, what segment of the population then disproportionately benefits?

Right again! THE POOR.

So would you care to go over once again whether it's (1) the relative fly speck of the budget spent on crime-suppressing incarceration, or (2) the boatload of borrowed money spent on allegedly "caring" programs, that actually works to the day-to-day benefit of the poor?

Inquiring Georgetown minds want to know!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 27, 2014 11:16:34 PM

Once again, Bill, this back-and-forth shows how much you are a political player rather than really interested in careful, honest exploration of ideas and principles.

For starters, you account for GOP leaders advocating drug war reform by stating "politicians [are] opportunists who need to change the subject when they get in hot water." This statement perhaps explains why YOU have been eager to change the subject of this thread to views about the welfare state rather than views on why a growing number of GOP leaders --- including top candidates for Prez in 2016 --- are now actively embracing drug war reforms. I surmise you realize you are in "hot water" when we talk about your affinity for all the big federal government programs/funding that the modern massive drug war supports, so you are eager to change the subject to tired, right-wing, party-line attacks on the welfare state.

Beyond your efforts to change the subject, you completely misrepresent what I actually said about big government. Here again, in case your reading skill have diminished while you sit your drug-war-big-government-supporting hot water, is what I said, with key phrases in ALL CAPS AND BOLD:

"The reason I WORRY MORE about big government in the CJ system than elsewhere is likely based in my Jewish heritage and the fear that when big government uses its laws to hurt/kill citizens it is always more worrisome than when big government uses its laws to try to help/feed its citizens. I know you think the big CJ system through the drug war and other means helps more people than it hurts, but of course that is exactly what folks on the left say about the part of the big govt they like. Candidly, I GENERALLY THINK NOTHING THE GOVERNMENT DOES (ESPECIALLY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT) IS AS EFFICIENT OR AS HONEST AS WHAT TAKES PLACE IN LOCAL/PRIVATE ARENAS, SO I AM A CRITIC OF BIG GOVERNMENT GENERALLY."

It is telling --- and makes me worry about what you teach students at Georgetown (a place you often referencing for puzzling reason) --- that you somehow read these three sentences as a statement "that [I] favor expanding" the welfare state and big government programming at the federal level. Where did I say that and/or how do you come to this conclusion? I am truly gobsmacked here.

Back on topic, it is likewise telling that you fail to see that marijuana prohibition --- like alcohol prohibition a century ago --- is now the biggest and most extreme example of the feds "rais[ing] taxes, spending, borrowing, nannyism, regulation, hecktoring and overall social control" especially concerning medical matters. Consider the Raich case: Angel Raich wanted to grow pot in her yard to self medicate (consistent with state law), but the feds say to do that would be a federal felony; you and other federal drug warriors support that exercise of stunning federal power, and to do so you must raise federal taxes, spend and borrow to support the broader nanny-state, hectoring, social control system that says Angel Raich and others like her must go pay big money to Big Pharma to deal with pain because .... uh, I really do not know why.

Trying to stay on topic, Bill, do you realize that the federal income tax was created largely through the support of DRYS who knew their desire for government control over what people consume would not have been possible without ensuring the feds had another revenue source other than alcohol taxes? Do you realize that alcohol prohibition was a movement long driven by actual nannies --- older women without the right to vote at the time --- who for decades hectored free men at saloons and male politicians, and later got religious and progressive groups to support their prohibitionist approach to social control? I know you like to think this on-point history is not relevant --- or you might even (rightly?) say alcohol prohibition now would end up helping the poor --- but I think it helps account for why a growing group of GOP leaders (as well as many citizens) are coming to understand where GOP criticisms of Obama should take them: a real, principled commitment to freedom and small government requires at least questioning the size and impact of the massive, modern drug war.

Finally, I love seeing that (after you have expressed a bizarre and distorted account of my views) you here explain how, in your own mind, you are the true and most righteous big government Robin Hood: in your view, Bill, it seems the big CJ government you so aggressive support is what really helps the poor more than anything else the government does or tries to do. I do not want to dispute your claim about which big government programs best help the poor, but your Robin Hood mentality to support the drug war returns us to why I worry most about supporters of big/harsh CJ systems. You apparently think, Bill, that having big CJ government hurt/kill the "bad guys" is the very best way the government can help the "good guys" --- and that the kind of thinking that most scares me in support of big government. All terrorists, tyrants and dictators, in their own minds, seem to think hurting/killing the "bad guys" will best help the "good guys." When this thinking ends up controlling a huge government system that is very efficient and well funded in hurting/killing the bad guys --- like the federal CJ system --- we are headed down a scary road in which a nation supposedly conceived in liberty actually becomes a nation defined by big government social control.

Getting back to the topic at hand, I promote GOP leaders in this arena saying things in support of drug war reform in large part because I think the tea party attacks on big government --- combined with Prez Obama's big government stumbles --- have been essential conceptually for some members of the GOP and lots of voters coming to see the freedom-loving, small-government light in drug war context. But, as you keep proving, plenty of other prominent big-government GOP voices are eager to attack freedom-loving GOP members talking up drug war reform.

This thread built off your attack on GOP leaders advocating drug war reform as "useful idoits," and I wanted to understand just why you attack your allies here. Best I can tell after this back-and-forth, you do not think sound GOP principles or good modern politics explain recent GOP shifts, but rather you think some Manchurian-like druggie agenda and conspiracy has managed to warp the minds of GOP folks in hot water elsewhere.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 28, 2014 7:41:00 AM

Doug, your chief error here was bothering to debate who is a "useful idiot" with a useless one.

How can you still be "gobsmacked" when Bill makes up straw men to debate because his arguments against what you actually said are weak, inconsequential, and/or patently hypocritical? You must be used to this by now?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 28, 2014 10:35:54 AM

This Bill Otis guys teaches?

He teaches politics, not law, right?

Posted by: Will Swanson | Jan 28, 2014 10:45:28 AM

Will Swanson --

"This Bill Otis guys teaches?"

Correct. What do you do?

"He teaches politics, not law, right?"

In a democratic system, LAW IS THE PRODUCT OF POLITICS. You know, Congress and statutes and all. You didn't know this?

But if that's too much for you to grasp, go back and look at Doug's entry, which is about how Republican CANDIDATES could benefit POLITICALLY from advocating changes in drug LAW.

Got it now?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 28, 2014 12:47:38 PM

Google News reported that another Marlborough Man died today of some tobacco illness. If you want to have a discussion of penalizing substances that harm or kill humans than start with the big guy. How many people out there who want to outlaw pot smoking smoke cigarettes themselves. "Cigarette smoking is dangerous, hazad to your health. Does that mean anything to you?" [opening line of Legalize Marijuana, a song by Bob Marley]

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 28, 2014 1:52:18 PM

Gritsforbreakfast --

"Doug, your chief error here was bothering to debate who is a 'useful idiot' with a useless one."

1. Grits anoints himself the arbiter of Doug's "errors" in deciding who Doug wants to debate.

Far out!

2. Grits also declares me to be a useless idiot.

Also far out. The more typical charge is that I'm a clever obstructer of sentencing reform, using my skills to obfuscate the Wonders of Progressivism.

But Grits knows better.

Actually, he doesn't. And he knows he doesn't. He just likes insulting people who disagree with him.

There was a point at which I thought he'd grow out of it. I confess error.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 28, 2014 2:02:55 PM

Bill, while you are confessing error, I hope you will confess that you were mistaken when asserting that I favor expanding the welfare state. If I ever want to apply for a job in future President Rand Paul's administration, such an assertion might lead future Attorney General Mike Lee to oppose me.

Jokes aside, the reasons Grits is so wrong is that I learn so much more when I discuss/debate important matters with those who disagree with me rather than just with those who agree with me. That said, given that I so often say here and elsewhere so many things that so many bright people (you and Grits included) disagree with, I often do not hurt for useful discussion partners.

As I hope you realize, keeping the debate relatively civil and as accurate as possible is always a priority for me. So, while you are being relatively civil, please help me make sure you are as accurate as possible in this setting by correcting your erroneous statement(s) about my support for big government.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 28, 2014 4:34:47 PM

Doug --

Your prior post was too long for me to respond to, which is why I didn't. I'm spending much of my time today talking to one person or another in advance of the Durbin-Lee markup, which Leahy has scheduled for Thursday. Lotta scramblin' to do.

I read your statement about helping (social programs) rather than hurting (incarceration) to be approval of those programs -- programs that are the true drivers of big government. Now that I go back to it, I see that my reading was incorrect. You were expressing merely LESS SKEPTICISM about social programs than about incarceration.

You're right, expressing less skepticism is hardly embracing. So that was a deficient basis for accusing you of being a fan of big government. I retract it and apologize for it. I actually do not know the extent to which you support/oppose the welfare/entitlement/dependency state. I don't think we've ever talked about it.

At the same time, I hope you understand that, unlike what you often say, I am no fan of big government at all. I do support a robust criminal law, for sure. But that is a truly miniscule part of what is driving the national debt through the roof or of the increasing and (in my view) suffocating intrusion of the federal government into private and commercial life.

If the entire federal government were pared back to what it was when George H. W. Bush left office, it would be fine with me. That is hardly the definition of a Big Government man. Indeed, my guess is that any such proposal would be regarded by people who ACTUALLY DO favor big government as being a scandalous rendering of the "safety net."

So I would appreciate it if you would refrain in from saying that I favor big government. I don't.

P.S. Because of his apparently irresistible urge to be as rude as he can get to people who disagree with his extreme left wing politics, Grits is one of the bigger wastes of an intelligent mind I have ever run across.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 28, 2014 5:36:30 PM

Thanks for this, Bill, and good luck keeping the miniscule part of the federal government you like as big as you can.

Because I sense the criticism stings, I will no longer say you favor big government. But I hope you realize that it is largely because of all the flaws I see in the part of the big federal government that you like that I have become much more of a skeptic of all government programs (especially the federal ones). Indeed, the Clinton and GWB years help turn me into a states' rights/libertarian as I saw that all federal politicians end up favoring big government, they just end up fighting over which big government programs they want to use taxpayer moneys to use.

Ironically, I think also "support a robust criminal law," but I want this done mostly at the state level. And I would love to turn back the federal criminal clock to 1992, when there were about 45,000 federal criminal cases each year. We are now up to nearly 100,000 cases, a level unmatched since the years of alcohol Prohibition.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 28, 2014 6:56:51 PM

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