In the eyes of many people, the left-right political paradigm has served little purpose beyond saturating political debate with conversations about moral issues, over which legislation has little affirmative power. If Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gets his way, these conversations may become a thing of the past.
The message that Paul is very publicly pushing is not a new one. Libertarians have been saying the same things for years: Laws that seek to infringe on liberties that come with mostly personal consequences in the short term are unpopular and, often, unenforceable. Thus, the result of moral legislation often is more societal harm than good.
And Paul’s position on Federal marijuana prohibition — while, perhaps, at odds with traditional GOP positions — makes a great deal of sense for a fiscal conservative. According to NORML, the United States’ law enforcement agencies spend $10 billion and arrest 750,000 individuals each year as a result of Federal marijuana laws. This is despite the fact that more than 30 percent of the U.S. population currently lives under some form or another of marijuana decriminalization, including people living in States like Washington and Colorado where full legalization of the drug has been allowed.
In an interview on FOX News over the weekend, Paul — who has previously been an outspoken advocate for legalizing hemp (a non-psychedelic plant in the cannabis family with industrial viability) production — said that current marijuana laws are burdening American society with a Federal one-size-fits-all legal view of drug offenses.
“I don’t want to promote that but I also don’t want to put people in jail who make a mistake,” Paul explained. “There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on in their twenties they grow up and get married and they quit doing things like this. I don’t want to put them in jail and ruin their lives.”
Paul went on to note the publicly acknowledged youthful drug use of President Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
“Look, the last two Presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use, and I really think, you know, look what would have happened, it would have ruined their lives,” Paul added. “They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys, and they go to jail for these things and I think it’s a big mistake.”
With regard to youthful drug offenders whose futures can be forever tarnished by a small possession charge, marijuana advocacy groups have expressed a view similar to Paul’s. According to NORML’s statistics, in recent years more than 30 percent of all Americans arrested for marijuana-related offenses were 19 years old or younger.
Paul’s marijuana position is not surprising given his continued call for the GOP to embrace candidates who are fiscally conservative, but capable of appealing to a broader base on social issues. The Senator isn’t just talking the talk, either.
On Friday, Paul presented a budget plan that was considered harshly conservative by many Americans and criticized as “out of the mainstream” by pundits. For a fiscally conservative Tea Party voter, however, the Paul plan — roundly rejected by the Senate — was the stuff of dreams.
Echoing the ideas of his father, Paul proposed eliminating the deficit in five years by doing away with the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development, while also privatizing the Transportation Security Authority. The Senator’s proposal also called for raising the age for Social Security eligibility, a privatized Medicare system and the annihilation of Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
On top of the spending cuts, Paul proposed that the capital gains tax should be eliminated and a 17 percent flat tax be put into place.
Though his plan was rejected, it did receive a “yea” vote from Paul and 18 other members of the legislative body: Republican Senators John Barrasso (Wyo.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), James Inhofe (Okla.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Jerry Moran (Kansas), James Risch (Idaho), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), and David Vitter (La.).
There is widespread speculation that Paul is working to position himself for a 2016 Presidential bid. And while it is yet to be seen whether the junior Senator will be embraced by the GOP as it works to rebrand itself, most analysts say there is no doubt that Paul has the power to bring a broader base of support to the Party. The biggest question, it seems, is how much moral conservatism are traditional Republicans willing to forgo in return for real fiscal conservatism.