The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the Enforce the Law Act late last week. It’s a typically dowdy-sounding name for a bill from a dowdy party that can’t stand the idea of anybody not wanting to listen to it. The gist of the act is that the president – one Barack Obama – has just taken too many liberties with the laws that Congress has passed and Congress is sick and tired of the disrespect. It would clear the way for Congress to sue the president for non-enforcement of federal laws, if it were signed into law. That last part is the real kicker here. That would require passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate, too, as well as a signature into law by the president’s own hand, which makes it unlikely to become law. But an outside chance of the Republicans taking control of the Senate in this year’s elections means that there’s all sorts of political posturing going on around the bill, including a healthy dose from Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul, who said on Fox News last Thursday that Obama “needs to be chastened, rebuked, and told that he needs to obey the constitution.”
Before he became a senator, the line on Rand Paul was that he was going to be the second coming of his father Ron Paul – sounding all the right notes on economic freedom while recognizing that people should also be free to do as they wish socially. But since he’s appeared on the national stage, the younger man has felt the need to differentiate himself from his father, the man who still has the distinction of being the only libertarian politician to make a mark on American politics in the last 40 years. Moving away from that libertarianism only makes Paul more like all the other Republicans in America, which is supposedly good for his presidential aspirations but not so good for anyone who in America who wants a real alternative to politics as usual. It’s no wonder he doesn’t connect with young people the way his 78-year-old father did. Where Ron Paul was perfectly happy to live and let live with people whose social beliefs were different from his own, Rand, in trying to forge his own identity, has ended up casting his lot with conservatives whose impulse is to make sure that America remains a nation hell-bent on arresting all its citizens for victimless crimes.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, one of the Enforce the Law Act’s sponsors and the author of the House Judiciary Committee report recommending passage of the bill, is the same Congressman who for years tried unsuccessfully to block people from playing online poker in the United States beforepulling in a few favors to create the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA).Goodlatte’s report displays those same old social conservative tendencies, in particular a concern about the Obama administration’s hands-off policy with recreational marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington amounts to “a formal, department-wide policy of selective non-enforcement of an Act of Congress” that “infringes on Congress’s lawmaking authority by, in effect, amending the flat prohibitions of the CSA to permit the possession, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana so long as that conduct is in compliance with state law.”
Just in case you’re keeping score: yes, all this grave concern for proper Constitutional balance is indeed coming from a leader of the same Republican House minority that has manipulated the rules to lock up the legislative branch ever since the American people had the nerve to elect a half-black guy to run the executive. And yes, that same party was perfectly okay with the executive branch interpreting and even secretly re-writing laws in whatever fashion it wished back in the 2000s, when the GOP was in control of every branch of government and the guy in the White House made sure to drop the word “terrorism” into every sentence like was getting paid for it. Goodlatte and the Republicans are saying that the only solution to stop a lawless president is to meddle with him – and the supposedly libertarian Rand Paul says he’s down with their meddling with the president’s meddling.
If Rand Paul really wanted to make a difference and ensure federal laws are enforced, he could do so in a much less harmful manner, particularly with regard to enforcement of drug laws. He could back an effort to reform the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 by removing marijuana from Schedule I, which was originally intended to be reserved for drugs with high potential for abuse, no accepted medical treatment in the United States, and a lack of safety for use of the drug under medical supervision. After all, as a student of American history and constitutional separations of powers, he surely knows that the recommendation of marijuana’s placement on Schedule I was originally intended to be temporary until scientific studies could be done to determine its proper scheduling.
Assistant Secretary of Health Roger O. Egeberg wrote to Congress in 1970, “(s)ome question has been raised whether the use of the plant itself produces ‘severe psychological or physical dependence’ as required by a schedule I or even schedule II criterion. Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule I at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue.” Congress followed this recommendation, but the Nixon administration never took action on rescheduling despite a national commission’s recommendation that pot be decriminalized. By modern GOP logic, then, the presidency has been blocking Congress’ will with regard to drug laws not since early 2014 but for the last 44 years. Of course, the last thing Rand Paul would ever do here is stand up and rock the boat. The fact is that Paul doesn’t want to make a difference unless he can do it from the White House.
By supporting puff theatre pieces like the Enforce the Law Act dreamed up by conservatives from key primary states – the Enforce the Law Act’s other author was South Carolina “pro-life plus” Congressman Trey Gowdy – Rand Paul curries favor with the party base. That will be necessary to make him an early front-runner for the presidential nomination in 2016 and bring in big campaign donations just in time to help pull away from a crowded field. The idea seems to be that by turning Rand Paul into a candidate who can bridge the gap between the Tea Party and the mainstream GOP, he can then move on to the general election. But what’s missing from this equation is how – if he even manages to make it through the primary season – he’ll have to explain his nods to social conservatives to a general electorate that’s grown so loose on social issues that voters in two states chose to legalize pot two years ago. If he expects that everyone’s going to forgive him his trespasses, or to be too stoned to remember him working against their best interests, maybe Rand Paul is the one who’s high.