Obama vs. Romney vs. You (Drug War edition)

If you think of your choice in the 2012 presidential election as Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney, then you’re going to be left pretty unsatisfied (and not least of all in terms of SNL caricatures. But seriously, in that department, Obama vs. Romney gives us a guy who pales in comparison to Biden and Dubya, vs. a guy who makes you long for the GOP loonies). But one area where neither mainstream candidate offers a viable solution is drug policy. In that area, Obama vs. Romney gives us a president who’s reneged on his promises for reform, vs. a guy who seems, not surprisingly, more than a little out of touch. What’s a voter to do?

The first way to answer that question is to ask another question- what do we as a society want with regards to drugs? This, after all, is ultimately the question that the Obama vs. Romney campaign machine is trying to avoid. I’m not going to try to explicitly approach it from the libertarian perspective, but to consider it as an average, sensible, open-minded American. I think we want drug use to be safe, both for the user and for those around him or her. We want those who need help to be able to get it from places like those found in New York drug detoxification. And we don’t want it to be a huge drain on taxpayer money unless there’s a really, really good reason.

Sadly, none of these goals are being met by Obama vs. Romney, or by the decades of two-party politics that they represent. This is clear in that longest of all ‘muhrican military conflicts, the Drug War. The costs of the Drug War were detailed last year in an AP article picked up by Fox News, usually no great friend of silly things like civil liberties or numbers. The AP reports that since its inception in the Nixon era, the Drug War has cost around $1 trillion. That’s trillion with a t. Almost $450 billion of that has been spent on imprisoning 37 million nonviolent drug offenders.

And for what? Well, not much. The article quotes current US Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who says that 40 years after the first shots were fired in the Drug War, “the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

So what does Obama vs. Romney have to do with this?

A couple weeks ago, Reason.com published one of many excellent articles on President Obama’s empty rhetoric on slowing down the Drug War. As the article shows, Obama supported ending the war when it was politically expedient (that is, in 2007, when the word “Bush” was toxic), but vowed to continue it when that was politically expedient (in 2010, when Obama’s PAC was afraid that pushing to legalize marijuana would hurt Democrats in Congress, even though it wouldn’t).

And Romney? On the issue of drug policy, a recent article on truth-out.org shows him as anything other than a laissez-faire capitalist with faith in the marketplace. His policy, if he has one (and, not surprisingly, it’s unclear whether he does), is to try to convince marijuana users to put down the joint, to end drug use through advertising. This is perhaps the single greatest sign that the computer code for the Romneybot was written in the 1950’s. Did he miss the “Just Say No” campaign, which, as the AP reports, cost $33 billion and failed to curb teen drug use?

In the issue of drug policy, Obama vs. Romney is a false choice because neither is especially concerned either with convictions or with solving problems. Instead, we must put our faith in freedom, even (especially?) if our fellow citizens choose to exercise that freedom in different ways than we do. We must stop basing our decisions on what we believe is the popular, conservative option (and besides, we’re often wrong about that anyway). We must move away from the Obama vs. Romney, two-party noise machine. That’s the choice the Libertarian Party offers.