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How a smart presidential candidate from either party could harness this political moment

August 15, 2014, at 7:05 AM
 

America will never become a libertarian utopia. But anti-statism is definitely in.

There will be plenty of differences between the eventual Democratic and Republican presidential nominees in 2016, and anyone who reads The Week can probably come up with a long list of them on demand. But even before the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, expressing rage at an apparent manslaughter by a police officer, exposing the human costs of police militarization, a certain set of bubble issues had made its way into the middle of our politics.

These issues are not conservative or liberal. They're practical and modern. They're also consensus issues. A platform based on these issues is available to any candidate who believes in them. The specifics and emphases might differ, but would Americans, at this moment in time, reject a candidate who:

1. Supports the decriminalization of marijuana on a federal level, or who expressed support for state-based efforts and promises to support a change in federal law that would end the federalism conflict. This would be twinned with a reorientation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (renamed the Office of National Drug Treatment Policy) and support for sentencing reform, enhanced oversight of the prison-industrial complex, and better support for mental health treatment. We know a lot more about crime than we did when the laws that discipline and punish criminals today were enacted. So let's update those laws.

2. Promises to evaluate and then modulate the post-9/11 rise of the "local police state" by buying back surplus military equipment, requiring more transparency from SWAT teams and other specialized units, calls for transparency in the way that police use devices like Stingrays to collect cellphone calls and automatic license plate readers to track vehicles. This promise could be twinned with a vow to more easily (but temporarily) provide federally controlled resources to states to help them with cold cases, difficult and complex investigations, training, and burdensome tactical situations. Do you want your city government controlling these assets? Or the far-away federal government? Is there anything the government can do to enhance transparency and require better practices at the local level? An enterprising politician can surely find a way.

3. Advocates for further reforms of the National Security Agency, including a change in the way intelligence gathered outside the U.S. is assessed for domestic content.

4. Makes a promise to share "secret law" with Congress, if the Justice Department is requested to provide legal cover for controversial practices. There are a bunch of reasons why sharing these opinions immediately with everyone isn't practical, but there are almost no good reasons why they shouldn't eventually be published.

5. Vows to sign into law an expansive and open-minded rewriting of the Freedom of Information Act.

This is a platform that could stretch across partisan divides. I could see Hillary Clinton or Rand Paul or Martin O'Malley or Jeb Bush or Chris Christie or Marco Rubio running on a version of this platform. And the first politician to make these issues his or her own will have an advantage with those swing voters who want to be on the right side of history.

 

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