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Friday, August 26, 2016

We Should Stay out of the Obama Family’s Affairs, and They Should Stay out of Ours

Don’t people who aren’t privileged enough to live in the White House deserve the same second chance Malia Obama is getting?


A few weeks ago, we all saw Malia Obama smoking a joint at Lollapalooza (we think). News was already buzzing (ok, I’ll stop) over Ms. Obama skipping the Democratic National Convention, and Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, opting instead to attend the annual music festival.

Well, many would insist that attending either event surely demands being a little stoned.

But then gossip over Ms. Obama’s public escapades intensified, as her twerking, rowdy house parties, and her dad’s “furious” reaction to it all was blasted across social media.

Of course, the media has obsessed over the First Family for generations. They even hounded Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice for drinking, gambling, smoking (cigarettes), and driving a car. No, not drunk driving – just plain old D.W.F (driving while female).

And partisans have always spun these minor scandals as evidence of a president’s bad parenting (Teddy Roosevelt apparently quipped that he could either manage the country, or manage Alice, but that no man could manage both).

Who knows? Maybe this thirst for schadenfreude is in our bloodstream.

Nobody’s Business?

In any event, the public seemed to empathize with Ms. Obama, and declared it all nobody’s business.

Can we disabuse ourselves once and for all of this idea that an elected office holder’s family members are “off limits” from all public scrutiny?Seriously: underage drinking, concerts, dancing, rowdy house parties? Throw in a red bull to power through your finals, and I believe you have the Oxford Dictionary definition of “college.”

Still, Ms. Obama was smoking a Schedule I narcotic (we think) in broad daylight among thousands of strangers. Nobody invaded her privacy.

Also, can we disabuse ourselves once and for all of this idea that an elected office holder’s family members are “off limits” from all public scrutiny? Why on earth should that be the case?

Maybe I don’t care about her twerking, but if the president’s daughter robbed a bank I would like to know.

But Ms. Obama did not rob a bank. Instead, she did something that many have been, and will continue to be, penalized for, inasmuch as her “conduct” may have been a federal crime (so, sort of like bank robbery).

Come to think of it, so did her dad. So did his predecessor. So did his predecessor. (Note: Possession is a crime, even if you “didn’t inhale.”)

So did more than one-third of the country.

So, if we are going to discuss Ms. Obama’s conduct at all, let’s talk about the sheer hypocrisy of Federal drug regulations. Let’s talk about the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announcing – barely a week after Ms. Obama’s Lollapalooza incident – that it would not be reclassifying marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Rather, marijuana will remain a Schedule I narcotic along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. (Cocaine is Schedule II, but who’s keeping score?)

Personal Freedom

Let’s also talk about how neither the Right nor the Left makes very much sense when it comes to drug regulation.

While many on the Right lampooned Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda tax as a “Nanny State” attack on personal freedom, many Republicans still have a blind spot when it comes to the personal freedom of recreational drug use. (However, Millennial Republicans are less supportive of marijuana prohibition than older Republicans.)

And although a large consensus on the Left supports eliminating or relaxing marijuana regulations, the Left also reflexively favors a million other regulations on personal freedom, like what kinds of fat should be allowed in our food, based on the same logic underpinning the CSA.

Indeed, the CSA and the DEA are not hobgoblins of the vast rightwing conspiracy. They are the eminently predictable result of a century spent regulating personal freedom – like telling farmers that growing wheat on their own property, for their own consumption, during an economic depression, can be regulated as a form of interstate commerce!

The Left also has a blind spot for the Tenth Amendment, which it treats like the 13th floor on an elevator panel – they know it technically exists, but dare not speak its name. Yet, the Tenth Amendment has been the lynchpin to ending marijuana prohibition.

What’s the Harm?

It is actually rather spectacular that the Right and Left maintained the Drug War status quo for so long. In a word, it happened because each side fundamentally views drug regulation as part of the State’s moral domain. Although, whether this is all part of the State’s Constitutional domain is never quite addressed.

The Left and Right generally agree that the State has the authority to regulate “harmful” personal behavior, even if the only harm is to one consenting person.If you don’t believe me, just read the CSA: “[The] improper use of controlled substances [has] a substantial and detrimental effect on the health and general welfare of the American people.”

(Any Congressional findings on whether too many laws is detrimental to the health and welfare of the American people?)

The Left and Right generally agree that the State has the authority to regulate “harmful” personal behavior, even if the only harm is to a consenting individual.

They merely differ on how “harm” is defined: the Right favors personal freedom, so long as it is not immoral or indecent like drug abuse. The Left favors personal freedom, so long as it is not dangerous like selling unsafe products to a consumer.

The fact that marijuana is relatively safe compared to alcohol or tobacco, and may even have useful medical purposes, likely explains why the Left has been quicker to support decriminalization. Social Conservatives, however, have been slower to give up the Drug War.

But given the Conservative’s traditional respect for localism, and resistance to bureaucracy, it comes as no surprise that younger Conservatives are finally rethinking the State’s authority to regulate morality.

Safety and Morality

It is not unreasonable to want safe consumer products. It is not unreasonable to believe recreational drug use is immoral, or bad for one’s health.

Heck, I happen to think excessive consumption of sugary drinks and fatty foods really is unhealthy, and that drinking a 7,000-ounce soda probably falls under several moral philosophers’ definition of “gluttonous.”

The point is that the Federal government is a creature of the U.S. Constitution, and nothing more. It is not the Holy Church of Good Lifestyle Decisions.

Moreover, charity demands that we not fine people, or toss them in cages for drinking sodas and smoking plants.

Happily, Ms. Obama will soon be off to Harvard, not facing any fines or penalties for her marijuana use. And her dad (and at least two of his predecessors) made it into the White House without ever having to declare his marijuana offenses on a job application.

Don’t people who aren’t privileged enough to live in the White House deserve the same second chance?

 


  • Thomas Smith is an alumnus of Berkeley and Pepperdine Law, and a corporate attorney.