Connecticut commentators were shocked – SHOCKED! – to find that Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, an organization that opposes all tax increases, and Governor Dannel Malloy, a progressive, though less progressive than Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont or progressive love-child Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, should both agree that minor drug use should not be criminalized.
Mr. Norquist objects to mandatory sentencing for minor drug use because he rightly believes that sentencing should be a judicial rather than a legislative function.
Bill Buckley, considered by some to have midwifed the modern conservative movement, thought the same and proposed that drug use should be decriminalized.
Mr. Buckley here and elsewhere had stressed the following points concerning the criminalization of drug use: 1) drug prosecution is an expensive proposition with a very disappointing return; 2) prosecution does not attack the problem of addiction at its source, 3) prisons have become overcrowded schools where drug users quickly learn how to become drug distributors, and 4) the war on drugs – through the prosecution of low level drug crimes – has resulted in an increase of criminal activity that has had a ruinous effect on black family formation.
The Cato Institute, perhaps the most influential conservative think tank then and now, also took up the cause of drug de-criminalization. All this happened, it should be noted, way back in 1996, when Dannel Malloy, then still wet behind his political ears, had been serving as Mayor of Stamford for little more than half a year.
So then, it should surprise no one that Mr. Norquist has championed a cause previously embraced by Mr. Buckley. It is a little surprising that Mr. Malloy, the mayor of a city in which Mr. Buckley resided for years, should not early on in his political career have been familiar with conservative thought on drug use. In fact, it would be only a slight exaggeration to say that Mr. Malloy has now jumped, eagerly but belatedly, on Mr. Buckley’s bandwagon.
Better late than never.
Mr. Malloy has charged moderate Republicans in Connecticut’s General Assembly with effective racism. Mr. Malloy has conceded that Republican opposition to his program, which would free low level drug users of prosecution, is not intentionally racist. However, those who oppose the adjustment of a law that is racist in effect are themselves effective racists.
Mr. Malloy’s tinkering with decriminalization – he would only repeal the provision in the law that enforces prosecution for minor drug use – is far less comprehensive than Mr. Buckley’s proposition, which would abolish the criminalization of drug use altogether and provide medical relief, rather than prison, for drug addiction. More timid than Mr. Buckley's, Mr. Malloy's solution to the problem leaves the entire drug punishing apparatus -- the lawyers, the judges, the prosecutors and unionized prison workers -- still in place. Why overthrow such a money making operation? Mr. Buckley's solution sweeps all this away and recognizes the utter uselessness of a justice system that punishes addiction with prison rather than medical care.
Mr. Malloy easily could have rounded up Republican support for the program he is now loudly touting; conservatives had tilled the ground he was plowing twenty years earlier. Instead, he chose to pull the pin on a “racist” hand grenade and lob it in the direction of Republicans in the General Assembly. His motive in doing so was entirely political, a bid to paint Republicans as racists and so capture in future elections the votes of the vast majority in Connecticut who abhor racism. Mr. Malloy’s understanding of Republicans and conservatives is primitive but politically useful to him.
The notion that a program is not racist in intent but racist in effect is an old reliable rhetorical bean bag of the left. But it should not escape notice that legislators rather than governors make laws; that the lawmaking body in Connecticut has been dominated by Democrats since the 1963 and 1965 sessions, the last time Connecticut's Senate and House had majorities of different political parties, and that drug laws in Connecticut – now deemed excessive by Mr. Malloy, long after they were deemed excessive by conservatives – have been affirmed by majority Democrats, who must be, according to Mr. Malloy’s twisted logic, effective racists.
Mr. Malloy owes a heartfelt apology to the Republicans he has defamed unjustly. And if he repents properly – offering a sincere confession and a pledge to go and sin no more -- merciful conservatives in the state should forgo prosecuting the progressive porcupine for rank political plagiarism. Mr. Malloy, of course, is not a political plagiarist through intent. He stumbled into it though blind and politically purposeful ignorance.