Before we get to the marijuana news (and speculation), while Congress was off on yet another week-long vacation, there were a flurry of reports issued from various groups studying various aspects of America. The picture on income inequality is just as bad as everyone thought it was, one of these revealed. A blue-ribbon commission created after last year's State Of The Union address reported back (just before their year was up) on what could be done to improve voting access in America -- which was mostly ignored by politicians and the media alike, sad to say.
President Obama gave a speech last week on national security, spying and the National Security Agency, which didn't do much to mollify his critics on the civil liberties side of things. This week, a group formed to study the NSA spying concluded that the sweep of all telephony metadata was just flat-out unconstitutional, didn't aid in tracking down terrorists, and should be immediately stopped.
In the world of political commentary, right-wing mouthpiece Dinesh D'Souza was indicted for breaking campaign contributions laws. So maybe he'll be too busy during the next election cycle to put out propaganda movies, who knows?
The Republican War On Women went rolling merrily along, but we're going to devote most of the talking points this week to that subject, so we'll just mention it in passing. Here's a preview: Mike Huckabee has a starring role, this week.
OK, enough of the peripheral issues. Let's get back to that rather provocative headline, instead.
Will 2014 (or perhaps 2016) become known as the "Year Of The Marijuana Voter"? This question can now be seriously asked, because the issue of radically reforming marijuana laws seems to be growing bigger and more imperative with each passing week. Even though the year is less than four weeks old, consider what has been happening:
Legal recreational marijuana sales to adults are happening in Colorado. They will also soon happen in Washington state. The sky has not yet fallen in Colorado, and it is not expected to fall in Washington, either.
This means that when the two top teams in the National Football League meet for this year's Super Bowl, their fans back at home will be able to celebrate victory by smoking pot without the fear of immediate arrest for doing so. No matter which team wins.
In the past few weeks, politicians from Chris Christie to Rick Perry to Harry Reid have been signaling they are open to a much more enlightened policy on both medical marijuana and reducing legal penalties for recreational marijuana. That's a pretty broad spectrum of politicians.
Bill Gates admitted that he voted for legalization in Washington.
The Drug Enforcement Agency is still against marijuana legalization, but then that's no real big surprise, is it?
In a handful of other states, ballot initiatives are being filed to get outright legalization on the ballot for this year's election. California has already seen four separate ballot measures filed for 2014 alone.
President of the United States Barack Obama just stated in an interview that he considers marijuana to be "less dangerous than alcohol," and "not very different" than tobacco cigarettes. While the White House did then walk back his comments a tiny bit (stating Obama still doesn't support the concept of legalization), they didn't contradict Obama's key points in the interview.
In fact, Attorney General Eric Holder followed up Obama's comments by announcing that the Justice Department was going to start allowing legal businesses (legal under their state's laws) that sell marijuana (both medicinally and recreationally) to have access to American banks, just like every other legal business in the country. This is a huge tangible step forward.
And if all that weren't enough, there's a governor's race down in Florida which may hinge on supporting new marijuana laws. The newly-Democratic (he used to be a Republican) Charlie Crist has come out pro-marijuana, and it may boost his turnout significantly among key demographics.
That's a lot of marijuana news for a few short weeks of politics. What it all means -- especially that last item -- is that pro-marijuana voters are becoming important to politicians' chances of being elected. They might even change entire elections. Very soon now, the marijuana vote will become a group which cannot be ignored by politicians. More and more sitting politicians are openly sponsoring legislation to legalize marijuana, and they wouldn't be doing so if they thought it would be political suicide. The public's attitude has shifted, and poll after poll shows that the majority supports ending the "War On Weed." Even some Republicans can see which way this wind is now blowing. Medicinal marijuana is becoming so popular even states in the Deep South are looking at the possibility.
We've had election years with the media focus on "soccer moms" or "NASCAR dads" as the chosen demographic to explain the whole election. It is now quite possible that this year's election could turn on the "marijuana voter," as astounding as that concept is to even consider. Want to turn out the youth vote in a midterm year? Well, what's your position on legalization?
I still think it's too early to see many bumperstickers proudly proclaiming: "I Smoke Pot -- And I Vote" (after all, sporting one of these is still akin to a bumpersticker stating: "Please pull my car over and search it, Mister Policeman."). But we're not that far away, really. We stand at the start of a domino effect in the states -- two states have legalized marijuana, but many others are considering the notion and will likely get on board in the next two election cycles. There is still a dearth of conversation about legalizing marijuana on the national level, but this will follow after the states take the lead for a few years.
Sooner or later, though, whether it is 2014 or 2016 or beyond, the "Year Of The Marijuana Voter" is coming.
Congresscritters fled for their districts this week, which left the field wide open for President Obama to snag the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.
OK, sure, his NSA speech left a lot to be desired. Fair enough. But his comments on marijuana were so astoundingly commonsensical and realistic that Obama deserves the award for this alone.
What I suspect is going on, based solely on the timing, is that Obama is gauging reaction to his comments now because there is going to be some sort of mention of marijuana laws in next week's State Of The Union address to Congress and the country. Perhaps he will take my advice and announce he's rescheduling marijuana to Schedule II. Or perhaps the news from Eric Holder and the Justice Department on normalizing a legal marijuana marketplace will be highlighted somehow. Or perhaps I am totally mistaken (always a possibility), and the subject won't even come up during the speech.
Whichever way the chips fall next week, Obama has already opened a conversation on the subject which will continue at a much higher level than before he gave the interview. He has used the bully pulpit to elevate the conversation, to put this another way, in a fashion I haven't seen since at least the 1970s -- if ever.
This conversation is going to have a lot of strange bedfellows, I should point out. One of the best columns I've read (now that political pundits seem to be falling over themselves to admit their own youthful indiscretions with the wacky weed) comes from Kathleen Parker, usually a pretty conservative voice. She frames the issue better than even Obama, after mentioning some fellow columnists who had opposed legalization:
Though I respect their views and share their concerns, I come down on the other side. My long-standing position is that marijuana should be decriminalized, if not made legal. Regulate and tax the tar out of it, please, but let's stop pretending that pot consumers are nefarious denizens of the underworld. Among those who enjoy a recreational smoke are the folks selling you a house, golfing on the ninth hole and probably an editor or two here and there.
The "war on drugs" (beware government domestic wars) hasn't made a dent in the popularity of pot. Nor, after decades of common use, has it been proved to be the evil weed of Reefer Madness. How much better to have dedicated our resources to education and treatment rather than, through prohibition, to empowering criminals and cartels, not to mention ruining young lives with "criminal" records.
I came to this position not when I was a college student, a time when inhaling pot was a consequence of breathing the ambient air, but when I was the law-abiding, straight-arrow, tough-loving mother of a teenager. Suffice to say, I became aware that marijuana use was common among teens of all hues and stripes.
I couldn't imagine then or now that children might be labeled criminals for behaviors that mostly required parental attention. This should not be construed to mean I recommend pot use, certainly not by minors, any more than William F. Buckley did when he concluded that it shouldn't be illegal.
That is what has been missing in the debate -- the human perspective. Barack Obama gave his own human perspective on marijuana, ranging from the point of view of a former enthusiast to that of a parent with a teenage daughter. From here on in, the debate over marijuana laws is not only going to become more prevalent in politics, it is also going to happen on a level America hasn't seen since before Nancy Reagan got that "Just Say No" bee in her bonnet.
The ship of state turns slow, as we all know. Barack Obama just nudged us all in a better direction concerning the political discussion over how the law should treat marijuana. Because the question now becomes, at its heart: "President Obama thinks marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and about the same as tobacco -- so why is there such a wide disparity in the way the law treats these substances?"
For doing so, Obama wins his fortieth Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. We welcome Obama's evolving on the issue, and we welcome the newly-framed debate.
[Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
We had a few candidates for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, sad to say. So we've got a few (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards to start with.
Wendy Davis embellished a tiny bit on her website's bio, which is just a rookie mistake to make in politics. Her Republican opponents are trying to make it a huge deal, but at least one of them has recognized how over-the-top the criticism has gotten, so perhaps Davis can move on from this goof.
Wisconsin state representative Christine Sinicki got a little too carried away when listening to Scott Walker's "state of the state" speech, with her comments to Facebook: "OMG...this speech is so full of shit. Wish I could get up and walk out," and "Bottom line... the rich get richer and the poor and middle class continue to get kicked in the butt." You'll notice that there's a difference between the two. In the second, she went with the not-very-profane "butt," whereas in the first one she could have used "crap," but didn't. Sigh. Think before you post, people.
We almost gave this week's MDDOTW award to a group in San Francisco this week. An anti-abortion group is staging a march in the city, and they hung banners which stated "Abortion hurts women." A petition has been started to the city government to ban the banners, on the basis that they are (somehow) "hate speech" and need to be censored. Um, no. You may not agree with their political message, but trying to get the city to ban it is a whole different thing, folks. The mayor's office responded beautifully (in fact, let's just give the mayor an Honorable Mention for this response): "Mayor [Ed] Lee is a staunch, longtime defender of a woman's right to choose and disagrees strongly with the message of the banners, but the mayor's disapproval obviously doesn't -- and shouldn't -- trump the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."
But there's an even worse group, this week, when it comes to basic understanding of the way American politics works (and is supposed to work). This comes from the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group who donated $5,000 to the campaign of Representative William Enyart. Enyart co-sponsored legislation which blocks the EPA from new coal rules. The group says this violated a pledge he had made to the group when a candidate.
So the League of Conservation Voters wants their money back.
Hoo boy. Now, while you may agree with the environmentalists' stance and you may think Enyart's a weasel of the first order for going back on his word, this is simply not the way American democracy is supposed to work. Even though it kinda-sorta seems like you are, you are not actually buying votes with your campaign contributions. At least, you're not supposed to be doing so.
One way or the other, you can't ask for a refund in politics. That's not the way it works, folks. For demanding one, the League of Conservation Voters is hereby awarded this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. And no, we won't be asking for it back, sorry.
[Contact the League of Conservation Voters via their website's contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]
Volume 288 (1/24/14)
So what does everyone think of White House chief spokesguy Jay Carney's new beard? Personally, we think it gives him a certain amount of gravitas, and lessens the baby-faced nature of watching Carney, so we have to say it's a good look on him.
Ahem. Sorry, but someone had to bring it up... but wait! Breaking news! Carney has shaved! Say it ain't so, Jay -- bring back the beard!
Kidding aside, though, welcome to this week's installment of talking points, for all and sundry to use as handy go-to statements when discussing politics either with friends and family or with the nation as an elected official. Of course, next week will be entirely consumed with the State Of The Union address, and since Congress wasn't in town we've got a fairly mixed bag today (heavy on the unending Republican War On Women).
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Exactly as it was designed to do
This is issue number one. "It's working" needs to be the theme, for the next few months at the very least.
"The Affordable Care Act was enacted to create access to health insurance for all Americans. New numbers are now out which show that the rate of the uninsured dropped -- in one month alone -- by over one percent. In the past few months -- since Obamacare got going full-steam, in other words, the rate has dropped from 18.6 percent of Americans to 16.1 percent -- a full two-and-a-half points. Obamacare is working. It is insuring more and more Americans and bringing down the rate of the uninsured. Exactly as it was designed to do."
Three million and counting
While we're on the subject of Obamacare...
"At the end of December, over 2.2 million people had signed up for new health insurance under Obamacare. January's not even over, and we've already hit three million. And counting. As time goes by, more and more people are signing up for new insurance, exactly as predicted."
Mike Huckabee tells us how it is
Hoo boy. Mike Huckabee mansplains why there is no "War On Women" at all. Just you ladies don't worry your pretty little heads about it, y'hear?
This one is really a two-part do-it-yourself talking point. Let's just string together the Huckabee quotes from this week, on women and on his own party's extremists, and the talking points just write themselves, don't they?
Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That's not a war on them. It's a war for them. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.
Women I know are outraged that Democrats think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have the government provide for them birth control medication. Women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable of doing anything that anybody else can do.
It doesn't help that some of the supposed rock stars of Republican consulting tell candidates not to even discuss issues like the sanctity of life for fear of offending women voters.
For Democrats to reduce women to beggars for cheap government-funded birth control is demeaning to the women that I know who are far more complicated than their libido and the management of their reproductive system.
Huckabee on the Tea Party, and on his plans to travel to Auschwitz soon:
Just stop it. Whatever differences we have, compared to the differences that we have to the other party, they're small. And that's why I've asked Republicans, let's stop using the term "RINO" -- Republican In Name Only. Let's stop calling each other somehow less Republican than someone else. Be for the person you're for.
[The horrors of Auschwitz] all started when people were devalued, when people were deemed "less than someone else." We look back on that time in history and we think, "How can educated people, university-trained, how can a nation like Germany with all of its resources, with its vast level of its population with higher education, get to a place where they can do something so heinous?" You realize that the only way you can end up there is when you start with the idea that people just aren't as valuable as you are.
When Obama does what I did, it's evil
Mike Huckabee, part two. This should be just as entertaining as watching Mitt Romney try to explain how Romneycare was any different than Obamacare.
"Mike Huckabee is outraged that Obamacare mandates that prescriptions for birth control be covered by health insurance plans. What is bizarre and inexplicable is that when he was governor of Arkansas, Huckabee signed an almost-identical bill into law. The Arkansas law required health insurance plans in the state to provide birth control prescriptions, and it had fewer exemptions for religious organizations than Obamacare does. So why, exactly is Mike Huckabee so upset now when he signed an even more restrictive law into being when leading Arkansas? Could the ladies of his fair state not control their libido or reproductive system without the help of the government he headed, or what? When I do it, it's good, but when Obama does it, it's bad? Is that it, Mike?"
Marital rape? Can't happen.
Meanwhile back on the ranch, in the continuing War On Women saga, one buckaroo bites the dust....
"I see that state senator Richard Black has dropped out of the race for Virginia's 10th House district. That's probably a good thing for Republicans denying there's a War On Women, because his claim to fame in the race so far was that he didn't believe spousal rape could even be defined, musing 'living together, sleeping in the same bed, she's in a nightie, there's no injury and so forth or anything.' Every time I hear a Republican denying their party's War On Women, there seems to be another one of these knuckle-draggers exposed for their antediluvian beliefs about rape. Good thing he dropped out of the race, but I bet there's another one out there somewhere who will say something equally as unenlightened next week."
The real War On Women
This one's a good one to close the subject on.
"How Republicans can seriously deny they're waging a War On Women is beyond me. They oppose equal pay legislation like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. They put employers' rights above women's rights when it comes to decisions which should only be made between a woman and her doctor. They pass law after law restricting a woman's right to control her own reproductive health -- laws that are struck down again and again in the courts as unconstitutional attacks on women's freedom. They want to dictate what a doctor can say or force him or her to say things he or she doesn't agree with, because they think women are stupid. They are waging all-out war on family planning clinics in multiple states. They are going to oppose the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act proposed by Senator Gillibrand. This is no surprise, because Republicans are against any proposal which would actually help the lives of America's women. You know what is truly revolting? The leadership of the party seems to be made up of old men, and yet they continue to open their mouths and say laughably-incorrect things about the way women's bodies work. Now they're going after birth control. All the while, helpfully explaining to women how this war against them is actually somehow going to work out better for women. I've got a message for Republicans, a message they will be hearing again in the ballot box: you are indeed waging a War On Women, and women are fully aware of it."
When the party's over...
Turn out the lights.
"I see that Jimmy LaSalvia, the founder of the Republican gay rights group GOProud, has announced he's leaving the Republican Party for good. He left because of what he called the 'culture of intolerance' in the party, that he doesn't think 'any amount of policy changes can fix.' He went on to dismiss the party's attempts to rebrand itself to be more welcoming as, quote, nothing more than lipstick on a pig, unquote. LaSalvia also said he doesn't think the Republicans can win another presidential election again. While he will now be an Independent, we Democrats would like to offer a hand in welcome to Jimmy LaSalvia, should he ever wish to join a party that is truly an inclusive 'big tent' party."
Follow Chris Weigant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChrisWeigant