The power of ideas is nothing against the power of the purse.
Those of us born in the mid-Sixties can be forgiven for not understanding this. I was seven years old when the oil-embargo started; I was thirteen when Iran seized the hostages. My formative years were spent watching the Republican revolution in action -- Reagan, Bush (the elder), Clinton (Democrat but not leftist) and and Bush (the prodigal son). Throughout that period, the Republican playbook set the rules: the Laffer Curve, family values, No Child Left Behind and mission accomplished. If you were a fundamentalist -- someone who believes in making what you dislike illegal -- or a fiscal conservative -- someone who does not understand that taxes a necessity of free society, then this was the golden age. Of course, it was also a house of cards built on dogma.
Liberal thinking is not going to remedy any of that, but the requirement for change brought upon by economic collapse will make a difference. Naturally, this will be in the name of counter-counter-revolution; and it won't be linear or always produce a sensible outcome. Just watch the farce in action. Hence, the very same Republicans that complain about a war on the rich on Fox News joined Democrats to pass a ridiculously piece of legislation to punish the AIG bonus recipients. The intent is right, but Congressional action at this point is all about finding a scapegoat, other than Barney Frank. If Congress wants to make a grand gesture, I'd suggest mass resignation.
What we need to do is get realistic, which will be fun in some ways. Cannabis is on the verge of legality: not because of its proven medical benefits for cancer patients nor its limited harm (when compared to alcohol). Not even Bill Maher's begging and pleading can be credited. The reason that this overdue, sensible change to national mores will occur is that the country needs the tax receipts. Fortunately, fuller coffers won't be the only benefit: we'll suspend one segment of the drug war, which will save a whole lot of wasted money and effort. Of course, smugglers will require fewer illegal arms! Meanwhile, the very same people who are already smoking black market weed will be forced to switch to more expensive, safer marijuana, which is produced in regulated conditions. "Conservative" prejudices aside, does all of this really sound so bad? (And no, legalizing pot does not mean that heroin is next.)
And from there, we're only a short-step to other practical steps like the lowering of the drinking age. I hadn't thought much about this until I watched the Colbert Report last night and saw John McCardell, the former president of Middlebury College talk intelligently about the fact that raising the Legal Drinking Age did a lot of harm. Yet, it lowered the number of teens who drive while drinking, which is good thing. (MADD is to be credited with the pragmatic idea of the designated driver.) But it also drove the problem under ground, making teen drinking just as prevalent but less regulated and perhaps even more risky. And so, it's perhaps time to admit that changing the law didn't eradicate the problem; it made it just made it harder to see. Perhaps there is a better way. Maybe we should discuss it.
Change is always scary, but if confronting reality is one of the outcomes, we may end up better off.
Follow Michael B. Laskoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbilTo