I want to talk about fighting back.
Three years ago, my house was raided. My roommate, one of kindest and most decent men I know, and something of a party animal, was honestly also a small-time drug dealer. I don't mean he made a living selling drugs; he just had plenty of marijuana and cocaine around, and would sell it to those of his friends who wanted some. He worked a full-time job, waiting tables in a restaurant, and would stay up partying with his friends after work until two or three in the morning. I've seen him give away a hundred dollars worth of drugs just passing it around to the people in the room, then do the same thing again the next night. I doubt he ever made much money on drugs. He didn't stand out on street corners hawking crack to teenagers. Like I said, he had plenty of drugs around, and people who knew this would ask for some and he'd sell it.
One of his friends, or should I say a friend of a friend, got busted and cut a deal with the police. He became what the search warrent called a "confidential informant". He persuaded his girlfriend to call her friend, my roommate, and arrange a small transaction. Wearing a wire, he came to our house, bought $50 worth of cocaine, then walked back to the detective waiting in a car outside and handed it over to him.
A few weeks later, the house was raided. I was the only person home, working in the kitchen as I recall, when the knock came at the door. "Police officers executing search warrent!" they said, pepper sprayed the dogs, handcuffed me against the wall and began their search. I didn't resist, but there was no need for me to cooperate. I said little, and sat handcuffed in the living room, reading the search warrant, while they combed the house. I knew what they were looking for, and knew they would find it in my friend's possessions. There was nothing in my possessions, so I was arrested, jailed, released, and eventually had my charges dropped in exchange for taking three months of counseling. Five days after the raid, we were evicted.
I wanted to fight back.
I wanted to hurt people the way people had hurt me. I want to violate society. I never saw myself as much of a terriorist, but for a while I fantasied a plan to organize a militia and take over the Delmarva Peninsula. I settled on something more simple, like walking up in a Metro station, sitting down on the railroad track, and refusing to let the trains go though for an hour or so, or until arrested. Then I started thinking about all the ordinary people who'd just be trying to go somewhere on the Metro for their lunch hour, and all the people who'd be screaming and cursing at me while I screamed and cursed at them.
I gave up on fighting back. I forgave my enemies.
It's hard to imagine a society where only the police bust down doors and storm into people's homes, yet everyone else is peaceful and non-violent.
The poet W.H. Auden wrote, "Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return." Pat Buchanan cited this quote as an explaination for why Germany, fourteen years after Versailles, elected Hitler. The lesson has not been learned by those who finance and conduct the war on drugs. Joel Feinburg, in his four volume collection on "The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law," sums up this view:
The principle that the need to prevent harm to persons other than the actor is always a morally relevant reason in support of proposed state coercion I call ... "the harm principle" ... It has been held ... that it is always a good and relevant reason in support of penal legislation that it is necessary to prevent hurt or offense (as opposed to injury or harm) to others ("the offense principle") ... I defined "liberalism" ... as the view that the harm and offense principles, duly clarified and qualified, between them exhaust the class of morally relevant reasons for crimial prohibitions.
Dr. Feinburg's central premise is that of our founders. No legitimate government is omnipotent. Even in a democracy, there are limits to government power, for both theoretical and pragmatic reasons. Government regulation must meet a careful set of tests. To prohibit an individual's actions, either a harm or offense must be present.
The problem is real. There is a cycle of violence in our society. Armed men bust into people's homes - criminals, yes, but also the police. Police violence is not limited to bullet-ridden corpes in New York streets. Armed search and seizure has become a standard police tactic in the War on Drugs. C.O.P.S. has to be one of the most violent shows on television. The reason? Simple - armed force has become an acceptable means of social reform in our society.
Those who see the war on drugs as a popular crusade beleive in a mirage, one that only needs to be walked up to and confronted to expose it.
I've decided to fight back in a more constructive way.
2. 2000 in brief
The end of the cold war brought a crisis not just to Russia, but in a lesser way to the United States. Having lost the common cause that united the country for forty years, both our foreign and domestic policy began to fray into a collection of loose threads. Internationally, we've stumbled haphazardly into a string of armed interventions - Iraq, Serbia, Somalia; and ignored others - Uganda, Chechnya. There's no longer any sense of an overriding plan.
Likewise, domestic policy has suffered. Some groups campaign for gun control, or against abortion; others talk about the government being out of control or returning power to the states.
One of the more amusing comedies of 1999, trying to pass itself off as a serious news story, was the debate over campaign finance reform. As Congress discussed further restrictions on financing political candidates, some congressmen raised the question of constitutionality. It was almost as if Congress, after regulating almost every aspect of society, came full circle and began discussing regulating itself, then stopped suddenly and said, "Wait a minute, this is unconstitutional!"
Yet it is unconstitutional! Nothing in the Consitution gives the government the power to regulate political campaigns, and woe to us if it did! Like so many of our regulations, campaign finance reform sounds like a good idea at first, but is in fact a dangerous extension of government authority. What if next the government prohibits campaign contributions from convicted felons, on the grounds of denying criminals influence over the political system. Then an extension of criminal laws could begin to disenfranchise an entire class of people. Clearly, large donors can excert an unseemly influence over politicians, but allowing government regulation of political campaigns sets a dangerous precedent, and the Congress can not be allowed to embark down this path on a whim.
We can't go on with a government policy that's a loose fray of stray ends, the only common theme being, "if there's a problem, regulate it." We need a domestic policy we can agree on.
How about this - a less interventionist government, a government committed to constitutional government. A general expectation that if Congress wants to expand its powers, it must ask permission first. A clear understanding that government will not initiate the use of force. Only when someone uses force themselves will force be considered as a response. We'll send the police chasing after people who rob convenience stores at gun point. People smoking dope on their couches we leave alone.
3. political analysis. Constitution. the political parties and candidates.
"Left or right?" we're told to ask. "Liberal or conservative?" Yet there are other criteria in which we must evaluate a given policy or candidate.
"Foreign policy or domestic?" One is often a mirror of the other, but they must be delineated.
"Isolationist or interventionist?" Somewhere in the middle lies "restrained."
"Leadship or regulation?" Is the policy to convince people to cooperate in developing a solution, or to force a solution on those who can not be convinced?
There's no number line on which we can plot a candidate or position. Rather, there's a whole set of dimensions, which each must be independently evaluated.
Democratic and Republican parties.
Al Gore. Strongly committed to "do the right thing" on important issues such as technology access and the environment. A career in public service leads him to seek solutions in regulation, not leadership, though. Probably represents a continuation of the Clinton administration, and is unlikely to either restrain the government or offer strong ethical leadership. At least we know what we're getting. Rating: 6
Q: How does the Constitution empower the Environmental Protection Agency?
Bill Bradley. The highly negative and personalized nature of the Democratic primary is reminiscent of his trash-talking tactics as a Knick. Gore doesn't act like this, so it's probably Bradley driving the attacks, though he skillfully pushes half the blame off on his opponent. We don't need a president who sets illegal defenses when the ref isn't looking. Rating: 3
George W. Bush. His combination of personal charm with get-tough tactics (witness the executions in Texas) is reminiscent of his father, but without the foreign policy credentials. His aggressive domestic policy shows little sign of restraint, and this would probably be reflected in his foreign policy, but without the experience needed to make it work. Rating: 4
Q: What aspects of people's lives are off limits to government's police power?
Pat Buchanan. A great speaker and writer, Pat could crush almost any opponent in a foreign policy debate. His predisposition for rhetoric gets him in trouble, though. Neither a neo-Nazi nor a religious nut, the vicious personal attacks against him betray serious policy differences. To his credit, he has refrained from retaliating in kind and kept his campaign focused on the issues. Rating: 8
Q: If a gay man claimed to have been fired because of his sexuality, how should government respond?
Jesse Ventura. His highly publicized exit from the Reform Party three days before his pet candidate was ousted as party chairman betray a WWF mentality unsuited for any but the most banal public stage. A party chairman needs tact to keep a coalition unified. Gargan's opening of a public riff by suing the party demonstrates clearly that this isn't the kind of leadership a major political party requires. Rating: 2
Q: Would you permit a "Smackdown in the Rose Garden"?
Elizabeth Dole. Her withdrawal speech said it all - "it's comes down to money." The last thing we need is a president who'll back down whenever the money boys shift their chips to the other side. Rating: 3
Alan Keyes. The most passionate of the Republicans, Keyes understands the importance of moral leadership - and talks about it. An aggressive pro-life stand will probably cost him support and make him persona non grata (again) at the national convention. Quotes the Constitution from heart. Rating: 6
Q: Would you allow the abortion issue to be decided in a national referendum?
4. the media
In contemporary politics, the media plays a driving role. Polls indiciate most Americans base their election decisions primarily on televised debates - at least I think I heard that on TV. A six-year-old brings a gun to school and shoots a classmate; this triggers an instant national debate on gun control. One candidate begins airing "attack ads"; an entire campaign degenerates into a wild frenzy to portray the opponent as a negative campaigner. One candidate uses a personal fortune to buy hours of national TV air time; another withdraws from the race because she can't afford any more ads. Media consultants write books and become celebrities of their own.
We hear endless complaints about the influence of the media, but hey, if you can't beat them, join them. Clearly, the simplest way for mere mortals to influence the national political scene is to effectively stage national media events.
Contrary to popular belief, the media doesn't really dictate the course of political events, it simply provides a prevailing wind. And as sailors have known for generations, with a strong keel you can sail against the wind if you're willing to go a bit out of your way. The way to catch the media wind is to raise an appropriate headsail, then be prepared to tack to get where you really want to go.
What's needed is a plan of action that will meet several criteria.
First, it must be capable of catching immediate media attention. When the boat is dead in the water, the first priority it to get it moving, and the skipper will head in almost any direction.
Second, the ship must not be run into a reef. Timothy McVeigh understand the first condition, at least subconsciously, but not the second. His headsail generated plenty of media movement, but dashed his fledgling campaign to pieces on a rock visible to almost everyone but him - the people of this country will not embrace terrorism and violence to reform the government.
Next, a game plan is needed to capture this initial movement and begin shifting it. Ideally, you start moving at least partly in the direction you want to go, but having a plan to jibe and tack is more important than heading off in exactly a straight line for your destination. This plan must be prepared in advance.
5. a game plan
I propose to focus initially, but not exclusively, on the War on Drugs. Why? First, the drug war is a poster child for intrusive, violent, unconstitutional government. It violates Dr. Feinburg's criteria for a moral criminal law, since drug use is almost totally voluntary, and thus involves no violation of right. Also, it is prominent and controversial. There's no need to raise the drug war in people's conscience, because it's already there. Everyone's heard about it, and everyone has some kind of opinion about it. Enough people are opposed to it to provide an initial base of support. If these people can't be mobilized to protest against it, the fault lies with the organizers. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, it's something I feel passionately about because it has touched me personally.
Yet a survey of the main political campaigns website's reveals almost no mention of the War on Drugs, and any discussion of violence tends to focus on gun control, not government restraint.
What is needed, first and foremost, is to create the War on Drugs as a national campaign issue. The candidates are not talking about it, and the way to get them talking about it is to stage effective media events that highlight it.
I propose a series of protest rallies at the DEA's headquarters in northern Virginia. Nothing violent or even confrontational; there's no reason not to talk to the DEA and police in advance and hopefully find a mutually agreeable format. The key will be to attract enough people to get media attention. The way to do this is to stage a series of rallies, not just one, perhaps one a week, make them entertaining and interesting enough to bring people back the next week, and canvas the area heavily in advance. Pass out flyers on local college campuses, at sporting events and concerts, have one or two dozen people pounding the pavements for a week in advance of the rally, and expect something like a 1% return. One thousand people would be an excellent target number for the first rally; this means approaching 100,000 people. If ten people can hand out 2,000 flyers each for five days in advance, this goal can be obtained.
Once the rallies have begun creating the drug war as a campaign issue, a rapid and subtle tack is required. The issue is not drugs, it is violence. The issue is not whether people should use drugs, but whether the government should force people not to use them. The issue is not whether the government should pass laws about drug use, but whether armed force should be embraced as a means of social reform.
After a few weeks or perhaps a month of conducting weekly rallies, discussing and debating the issues, it will be time to tack again and present a solution. Not an outright condemnation of the drug war, but a call for a vote on the drug war, a national referendum to decide the issue. This can be implemented by an act of Congress placing an item on the November ballot and repealing the drug laws if a majority of nation's people vote against the drug war. Whether such a vote actually occurs is unimportant, it simply must be proposed. Any discussion about the drug war is then shifted to a discussion about a vote on the drug war. Anyone then opposed to our position has aligned themselves against a popular vote on a controversial issue, and this must be fully exploited, by hammering at it repeatedly. "A vote, a vote!" should be the constant rallying cry.
Once the call for a vote on the drug war has been clearly heard, the next step is to generalize the issue. Not just a vote on the drug war, but votes on environmental regulation, campaign finance reform, the Federal Communications Commission, export controls on software, regulation of the workplace, etc. Not just votes on existing regulations, either, but on proposed new regulations as well. The overriding theme now becomes the Constitution, and its limitations on government power. We must be careful here - the Constitution is not a straight jacket to be put on the government, so we must beware of trying to impose a particular piece of legislation via national referendums. The objective is to delineate the power of government, not to strip it entirely. The objective is to demands votes on the government powers clearly beyond what the Constitution. The objective is to establish a clear precedent that when the government desires to significantly expand its power, it must ask permission first, in the form of an empowering ammendment submitted to the country for a vote.
If we can successfully reach this point, ideally late summer 2000, we'll be "over the hump". The ship will have enough momentum that it can be steered in almost any direction we please. Exactly what that direction will be can not be determined in advance, since it's impossible to predict how others will react. Yet by creating these issues, the political parties and candidates will be forced to respond, primarily at their party conventions. Two major courses of action present themselves. If the major political parties are willing to persue reform, and if in particular the siting Congress is willing to authorize a national referendum on the drug war, then we already have a voice in the government and should simply canvas the country, campaigning people to vote down the drug war in the referendum, and use this leverage to encourage further reform. If the major political parties take a strongly anti-reform position, then we should attempt to form a broad liberal-conservative coalition, based on the principles of restrained, constitutional government, and hopefully founded on the existing Reform and Libertarian parties, in an attempt to turn the 2000 election itself into a de facto referendum on these issues.
In all else fails, put Pat Buchanan in the White House and hope his domestic policy will be as restrained as his foreign policy.
6. the next step
Those interested in discussing these ideas are invited to a meeting: