Pubdate: Tue, 31 Oct 2006
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2006 The New York Times Company
Author: John Tierney
Cited: The Cato Institute study
Cited: The Marijuana Policy Project study
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Regulation)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


As usual, Republicans are hoping that righteous voters will come 
through for them on Election Day. But this year looks like the 
revenge of the sinners.

The sinners aren't easy to count, since they don't spend a lot of 
time doing grass-roots politicking. There is no Washington lobby for 
the Coalition of the Damned. They don't like to confess their urges 
to pollsters. But there are enough of them, particularly in places 
where Republicans are struggling, to cast doubt on the party's 
long-standing strategy.

Why did Republicans assume there was a Moral Majority? Where in the 
Bible does it say that the virtuous outnumber the wicked? When you 
define wickedness the way Republicans do, the numbers are daunting.

One of the G.O.P. Congress's few achievements this year was a law to 
crack down on Internet gambling, an industry that counted eight 
million American customers last year -- about four times the 
membership of the Christian Coalition. The new law hasn't stopped the 
online gamblers from betting, but it will give them second thoughts 
about voting Republican.

The Republican war on marijuana -- the chief priority of the current 
drug czar -- isn't playing any better in the heartland. More than 40 
percent of people over the age of 12 have tried marijuana, and more 
than three-quarters of Americans support legalizing it for medical 
purposes. The White House and the Justice Department have had little 
luck in their attempts to stop states from legalizing medical 
marijuana, but they have succeeded in alienating voters.

These federal intrusions are especially scorned by independent voters 
in the Western states where Republicans have been losing ground, like 
Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Montana. Western Democrats have been 
siphoning off libertarian voters by moderating their liberal views on 
issues like gun control, but Republicans have been driving 
libertarians away with their wars on vice and their jeremiads against 
gay marriage (and their attempt to regulate that from Washington, too).

Libertarian voters tend to get ignored by political strategists 
because they're not easy to categorize or organize. They don't 
congregate in churches or union halls; they don't unite to push 
political agendas. Many don't even call themselves libertarians, 
although they qualify because of their social liberalism and economic 
conservatism: they want the government out of their bedrooms as well 
as their wallets.

They distrust moral busybodies of both parties, and they may well be 
the most important bloc of swing voters this election, as David Boaz 
and David Kirby conclude in a new study for the Cato Institute. 
Analyzing a variety of voter surveys, they estimate that libertarians 
make up about 15 percent of voters -- a bloc roughly comparable in 
size to liberals and to conservative Christians, and far bigger than 
blocs like Nascar dads or soccer moms.

They're especially prevalent in the West, where half a dozen states 
have legalized medical marijuana. When Californians approved one of 
the first medical marijuana laws, in 1996, drug warriors were so 
convinced it would lead to a catastrophic spike in illegal use by 
teenagers that they sponsored a study to document the damage. But 
there was no catastrophe: after the law, marijuana use by teenagers 
actually declined in California.

In the decade since, as the Marijuana Policy Project documented in a 
recent study, popular support for legalized medical marijuana has 
increased in California and in virtually every other state with a 
similar law. Last year it was favored by 78 percent of respondents in 
a Gallup poll.

Yet these realities still haven't registered with Republicans in 
Washington. This year the White House drug czar, John Walters, and 
his minions have been out campaigning in Nevada, Colorado and South 
Dakota, which have marijuana initiatives on the ballot. The drug 
warriors are still sounding the discredited alarms about youths 
turning into potheads. Their fervor's not surprising -- they may even 
believe their own hype.

What's surprising is the political stupidity of the meddling. 
Westerners, no matter what they think of marijuana, don't appreciate 
sermons from federal officials on how to vote. In 2002, when the 
White House campaigned against another marijuana ballot initiative in 
Nevada, the state's attorney general said it was "disturbing" to see 
the federal interference in a state election.

This year, with Republicans in so much trouble in the West, the 
missionaries from Washington aren't doing them any favors. They need 
every sinner's vote they can get. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake