In response to news that President Obama is offering clemency to hundreds of non-violent drug offenders, John Cole writes:
... if you think this is unrelated to the actions in states that have moved to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, you are being foolish. As attitudes change and things happen at the state level, the executive branch is able to move on issues like this. See the recent moves by the DOJ to allow growers in Colorado to have access to banking, etc. In other words, this is great news, and long overdue, but the only reason it is happening is because of local activists on the ground who changed the laws in their states.I agree. And do you notice what opponents of the War of Drugs haven't done, for the most part? They haven't pursued a strategy of "THE DEMOCRAT IN THIS ELECTION IS NO MORE PROGRESSIVE THAN THE REPUBLICAN ON THIS PARTICULAR ISSUE SO THE NUMBER-ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR ALL PROGRESSIVES TO FOCUS ON IS PUNISHING THIS DEMOCRAT AT THE POLLS NEXT NOVEMBER!!!!1!1!1!!!!!" People who've been concerned with drug policy have mostly been concerned with the issue itself -- they've concentrated on changing specific laws, not on punishing unsympathetic politicians.
That's what works for lefties. That's also what's worked over the years for the gay rights movement. It's not that you don't vote for the more sympathetic candidate, but you recognize that you're further along than both parties, and it's your job to pull the public and politicians to the left.
Obama's clemency decisions affects a lot of people who were sentenced under mandatory minimums. He seems to be responding to an evolution in public opinion. That's true, but please note that right-wingers -- the Koch brothers in particular -- have changed their position on mandatory minimums, which means there's no longer fat-cat pressure on lawmakers to support mandatory-minimum laws. ALEC used to be a big backer of mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws, quite possibly as a way of looking out for the interests of the for-profit prison company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) -- but now ALEC supports sentencing reform. (CCA quit ALEC in 2010. Coincidence?)
Threatening to punish officeholders doesn't really work for the left, but it does work for the right. This is because many of the GOP's big donors are ideological purists, and because a greater percentage of the party's voters are ideological zealots who'll rally to any Two Minutes' Hate, thanks to Fox News and talk radio. There are levers they can work and we really can't. So we need to proceed accordingly.