Column: If Obama is Unbeatable in 2012, What Should GOP Do?
For all his faults, President Barack Obama did order Osama bin Laden killed. That, combined with the possible lack of a strong, unifying GOP candidate could mean that the outcome of the 2012 election is a given.
As a student of history, I have to stop here and remind everybody that George H.W. Bush was in a similar position in 1991. He had just vanquished Saddam Hussein in the “mother of all battles” and was enjoying an 80 percent approval rating just about the time an unknown governor from Arkansas decided to get into the race.
By November of 1992, Bill Clinton was president.
But since this is just a thought experiment, I’ll set history aside for a moment and imagine that Barack Obama’s reelection is a forgone conclusion. With that in mind, what is the best strategy for the GOP?
Put a different way: what should a voter do with an election that doesn’t matter?
I was thinking about that question a few days ago when I was watching the first GOP presidential debate on Fox News. I’ll be honest, I’m a Huntsman and Romney man, so I figured the debate would be good for a few laughs. But, I really didn’t expect to find any of the candidates all that interesting.
Then, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson was asked a question about drug policy.
Johnson pointed out, correctly in my opinion, that 90 percent of the drug problem in America is actually a prohibition problem. Johnson went on to explain that when he was governor of New Mexico, he supported legislation that decriminalized marijuana possession and treated drug addicts as a public health – as opposed to a criminal – problem.
Then Ron Paul piped in and asked the audience how many of them would use heroin if it were legal. Paul’s point was that criminalization doesn’t stop people from using and decriminalization wouldn’t increase usage.
Like Johnson, Paul supports decriminalization and switching our drug focus from prohibition to public health.
The fact that Paul and Johnson not only support drug legalization but are also willing to make it part of a national debate, got me thinking about what the GOP should do with this election.
My answer is this: debate about the criminalization of consensual behavior.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court helped underscore my point by ruling that police can conduct a warrantless search if they believe that “drug evidence” is being destroyed.
The most recent court decision also reiterates the corrosive effects of the war on drugs. The U.S. currently keeps nearly 2.3 million citizens in prison, 60 percent of whom are racial and ethnic minorities. And, according to the Sentencing Project, 75 percent of the people sentenced for drug offensives are minorities.
This has created a situation where a strikingly high proportion of black and Hispanic men in America are either in jail, on probation or on parole. On top of that, the criminal records make it difficult for people who have been through the system to find gainful employment or even get a loan to go to college.
What Paul and Johnson are suggesting is that we declare a truce in the war on drugs. Neither Paul nor Johnson can likely win in November of 2012, but if Obama’s victory is a fait accompli, why not get somebody into the debate that is going to force Obama to answer a few real questions about why a non-violent drug user belongs in prison?
Moreover, nominating a candidate like Johnson or Paul could open the way for senators, congressmen and governors from across the ideological spectrum to reexamine their policies towards victimless crimes without fear of being labeled soft on crime.
Perhaps such an opening would also influence President Obama to take a different course in the drug war. If the president knows he won’t be branded a socialist-hippie for suggesting a harm reduction – as opposed to a war – strategy towards drug use, he might seize the moment.
In any case, to say that the outcome of the 2012 election is a forgone conclusion is not to say that the election doesn’t matter. If the GOP forsakes apathy and timidity in favor of a bold nominee, then losing the 2012 election might have a more positive effect on public policy than all the winners from both parties have had in the last 40 years.