Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« Stockwell Day vs. Scott Reid: who will win the hearts and minds of conservatives on drug policy? | Main | Fed censorship powers to be reviewed »

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

McCain: Bring the war home

If John McCain can’t win the war on drugs in his own home, what makes anyone think he can win it on the streets of America?

In 1989, McCain’s wife Cindy Hensley McCain became addicted to opium-derived painkillers including Percocet and Vicodin. To feed her addiction, she even stole drugs from the American Voluntary Medical Team (AVMT), the charity she founded.

I’m willing to forgive Cindy for her illegal drug use. Of course, she’s not my wife and I’m not running for President of the United States as a drug war hawk.

More importantly, though, I’m struck by the hypocrisy that forgiveness of illegal drug use is often extended to the rich and famous, while average Americans who use drugs keep the prisons at full capacity. People like Cindy go to rehab; the great unwashed go to jail.

So what’s the solution? Ignore drug use and abandon hope for a conservative culture? I don’t think so.

Instead, conservatives should look homeward to find the source of America’s social strength. Strong families will keep children away from drugs and other vices better than big government and prohibition.

And if Americans want a sober First Lady who believes in a pro-family agenda, they should look no further than Jeri Barr, wife of Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr. She’s been the CEO of The Center for Family Resources since 1984.

Posted by Matthew Johnston on June 17, 2008 in International Politics | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference McCain: Bring the war home:


So Matt will forgive,but still throws mud,very liberterian of him.

Posted by: Goff Tayler | 2008-06-17 4:20:36 PM

"Strong families will keep children away from drugs and other vices better than big government and prohibition."

strong families- on the endangered species list.
with our current education system, all we'll
ever see are dumb divorced,single parent families.

Posted by: Lars | 2008-06-17 4:39:55 PM


"More importantly, though, I’m struck by the hypocrisy that forgiveness of illegal drug use is often extended to the rich and famous, while average Americans who use drugs keep the prisons at full capacity."

I am not sure if anyone can verify that this is true, and I doubt it is. The rich and famous simply do not commit as many crimes I would guess, but if they did, cops and prosecutors wanting to make a name for themselves would be on trail faster than you can say "ELIOT SPITZER."

Posted by: TM | 2008-06-17 4:50:31 PM

Every addict should be forgiven unless their husband is intent on imprisoning others for the same offence. Think of the children and Lock 'er up!!!

Posted by: blogster | 2008-06-17 6:24:27 PM

And how, exactly, do you propose that anyone win elections at a national level - especially a conservative - while holding such views, Matthew?

Come on, man, it's damned easy to see how that one would play out. Conservative (or Republican) who leans libertarian embraces drug legalization, and opportunistic Democrat then starts railing about how their opponent wants to "push crack on your kids". Republican loses election.

Liberty cannot be imposed from above. Nor can it come in a single bite. The drug war may be wrong - but waging war on it first is the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Posted by: Adam Yoshida | 2008-06-17 9:28:15 PM

You might be right, Adam. But I'm not a strategist for McCain.

I don't expect McCain to run an anti-prohibition campaign, and I wouldn't necessarily advise it. I expect him to leave the status quo in place and not make a show of doubling down on failed drug war policies. I expect the same of Harper.

Besides, Adam, is it not our job - yours and mine - to be idealists and to leave the political manoeuvring to the politicians?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-06-17 9:42:07 PM

I don't merely mean John McCain - do you think that, in the present environment, a national candidate of either party could run a credible anti-drug prohibition campaign without the other party opportunistically exploiting the issue?

Ditto for here in Canada, for that matter.

Idealism without purpose is not only futile, but self-defeating.

Want a libertarianism that'll win? First, if you want to run a Presidential primary campaign, you have to purge the nuts. This is one function that William F. Buckley served for the GOP a few decades ago. Even on the issues that I agreed with Ron Paul with on, I'll be damned if I'm going to hang around with someone who accepts the support of Holocaust deniers, 9-11 Conspiracy theorists, and other lunatics - or who even flirts with them.

But, more than that, you're not going to win at the Presidential (or Prime Ministerial) level now, or even in a decade. It'd take at least two decades, probably more, to really foster a culture of liberty.

You people want to fight stand-up battles against armies when all you have are scattered militamen. It won't work. It might be gallant - but you'll lose every single time. Just, I need not add, as has occured for decades.

Spreading liberty isn't going to occur because you magically elect Bob Barr as President. Indeed, voting for Barr or whoever in an attempt to screw McCain is likely to HURT the cause of liberty more than help it since, given your numbers, the correct tactical response on McCain's (and the GOP's) part would be to write off such voters and instead move to capture more of the centre.

My position on the drug war is pretty simple - it can't be ended without first disentangling a lot of other things. The effects of just ending it by magic would be at least as disasterous as any of the effects of the war itself.

First of all, it has to be tied to the dismantling of socialism and the human rights apparatus given that, if we were just to pile legalized drugs on everything else that we have now, we'd suddenly have courts and tribunals discovering all sorts of new "rights" for drug users, in addition to higher welfare bills as the elimination of the need for drug users to avoid the authorities would lead to higher utilization rates for social services.

Second, any end of the drug war has - and I mean absolutely has - to be coupled with a drastic reform of property crime laws and the criminal justice system.

After all, the way that drugs are more likely to touch your life or mine is through some moron breaking into our cars our homes in order to get money to buy drugs. Legal or illegal - that doesn't change. If you have legalized (easier to access, and therefore more users) drugs then you're going to have more property crime. Look at the massive rates of property crime here in Vancouver, where drugs are already de facto legal.

Posted by: Adam Yoshida | 2008-06-17 11:18:27 PM

>"where drugs are already de facto legal.
Adam Yoshida | 17-Jun-08 11:18:27 PM

I mostly agree with your post, Adam, but the high price of drugs is a direct function of prohibition.

Marijuana is a weed and the people of Afghanistan are dirt poor even though the country is awash in opium poppies.

But over here the poppy product sells for about 50 gram.

Try and imagine how cheap the drugs in B.C. would be without the prohibition inflated prices.

And yes, I am aware that Libertarians pretend they are willing to accept that the price can be artificially inflated by TAXATION while arguing that they would be vastly cheaper without prohibition thereby eliminating most property crime.

Posted by: Speller | 2008-06-17 11:54:15 PM


I do, in fact, believe a moderate drug law reform platform would enhance the electability of conservative candidates, although I'm no longer convinced electing conservatives will do much to enhance individual freedom.

During Stockwell Day's first leadership race for the Canadian Alliance, he strategically announced in Montreal that he supported decriminalization of recreational marijuana use. The move helped to soften his image, especially in Quebec, where he was unfairly thought of as an extreme religious authoritarian.

Day's successful “Freedom Train” leadership campaign is only one example, but, given the broad support for marijuana law reform in particular, I believe conservatives (and Conservatives) would be smart to adopt this strategy.

Back to McCain, given the sad experience of his wife's addiction, and given the obvious failure of the drug war, why radicalize this issue further?

As I wrote before, it may, as you suggest, be politically reckless for McCain to call for an end to the war on drugs, and he wouldn’t do it anyways. But it is also risky to push for a renewed and enhanced commitment to the drug war (let's call it a surge strategy) when there is growing public disillusionment with the status quo approach to drug enforcement.

Again, my advice to political conservatives is to pursue a moderate policy to relax and liberalize drug laws starting with marijuana. If that's too much for traditional conservatives, at least don't give new money and new legal resources (asset forfeiture laws, for example) to law enforcement for this purpose.

I don’t use drugs or value the drug culture, but drug prohibition strikes me as a dangerous attack on individual rights that shouldn’t be ignored in favour of other policies.

I respect your position that the social cost of ending prohibition overnight could be too high. If incrementalism and patience is needed, fine. But let's show at least some progress, perhaps just a change in attitude, which we were seeing from Conservative (Canadian Alliance) MPs before Harper came to power.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-06-18 12:11:37 AM

The best incremental change would be to devolve the Schedule 1 drugs authority to the State level the way marriage law is being done.

The prohibition laws in the U.S. began on a State-by-State basis and it is logical to dismantle them in the same way they were created.

Get the Feds out of the drug war, let the States have the responsibility, the Feds have more pressing issues.

Posted by: Speller | 2008-06-18 12:21:01 AM

Excellent idea, Speller. Political suicide, Adam?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-06-18 12:25:09 AM

Hold on, hold on - pot decriminalization is a totally different matter, politically, than "ending the drug war. The fact that support for such a policy and soften a conservative's image is totally separate from what we're discussing here.

Also, the idea that the prices for street drugs are going to be lower in a legal system is silly. Yes, the current prices are marked up for criminal risk - but the prices in a legal system are going to have to be marked up for taxes, regulation, excise taxes, and liability. What kind of insurance do you think that you'd need to carry to market cocaine? What would the lawsuits look like? If anything, the prices are going to be higher in a legal market - especially if there's only a patchwork of legal markets from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

And, I think that Speller has things the wrong way around - so far as the U.S. is concerned. The Feds don't prosecute many people for simple possession or things like that - those are mostly state prosecutions. The Federal prosecutions are probably the least invasive and pointless (the Feds aren't in the business of busting some guy with a joint in his car).

It makes more sense to dismantle state laws first, especially since there's going to be a vast disparity on how this effects people and places. It'd be a lot easier to deal with legal drugs in Idaho than in New York City.

Posted by: Adam Yoshida | 2008-06-18 9:20:17 PM


First: 80% of all drug busts, convictions, seizures, and incarcerations in the U.S. are about marijuana.
(in Canada marijuana busts surpass all other drugs combined by an order of magnitude)

Second: Some States want to decriminalize marijuana but the Federal laws are prohibiting this reduction in the drug war at the State level.

Third: Federal agencies such as the DEA and FBI are the primary law enforcement agencies that pursue and prosecute interstate traffic in marijuana.

We were talking about incremental change.

Devolving Schedule 1 Drugs authority and legislation from the Federal level to the State level would allow State governments to respond to the wishes of their constituents the way they have with alcohol following the repeal of that prohibition and the Federal government could concentrate on securing the international borders, both making U.S. citizens happier and continuing to observe the Treaties and Conventions that the U.S. has with other nations.

I entered my suggestion about devolving the drug authority to the State level because of the political cost mentioned earlier in the thread for a candidate from either Federal party.

Obviously different States would poll differently on the marijuana issue and movement at the Federal level is hampered by these differences.

As the entire drug war is mainly about marijuana it is decriminalizing this drug that would have the most immediate impact on the drug war as a whole and decriminalizing marijuana and the consequent normalization that would follow would soften views on drug use(similar to recreational alcohol use) and ratchet down the rhetoric, lead to greater tolerance, and save a lot of money in the justice system.

>"but the prices in a legal system are going to have to be marked up for taxes, regulation, excise taxes, and liability."

Yes, but the price of illegal non-pharmaceutical drugs is currently so many times higher than the production value that the drugs would still be hugely cheaper, especially marijuana.

As to the taxes and liability; how much are the liability costs on alcohol and how high would the taxes be on drugs considering that the argument of high drug prices is used by drug warriors as a purported motivation by drug users to commit property crimes?

In essence, how can you justify taxing drugs to be unreasonably expensive given the claim that high expense is what drives users to commit property crimes?

Posted by: Speller | 2008-06-19 7:18:00 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.