Don, John and the right to take a toke [update 2]
Good news from yesterday’s speech by Don Brash, with two announcements from an ACT leader that are long overdue: that he thinks folk have the right to defend themselves and their loved ones, and the right to ingest cannabis if they so desire. [Full speech here.]
That it has taken this long for an ACT leader to state the bleeding obvious is tragic, especially since there’s little chance of any ACT MPs being returned next election—and if there are, then little chance of any ACT MPs or board members voting to make either policy their party’s policy.
Can you see John Banks (potentially their only MP) promoting your freedom to put into your body what (and whom) you see fit? Not a chance. [UPDATE: See.]
Can you see him attacking the police for victimising crime’s victims instead of the perpetrators of said crimes? Not a hope. No more than he can credibly promote the party’s position on fiscal responsibility after leaving his Auckland City Council over $800 million in debt under his stewardship.
So this is what it appears to be then; a trial balloon released just to attract attention, without any commitment as to policy. What’s surprising about this tepid non-announcement however is how surprised the commentariat is that an ACT Party leader would (gasp) muse aloud about policy positions like this, because policies like this always should have been firmly in ACT’s territory.
Even if the country’s clueless, calcified commentariat is unable to see the connection between the right to pursue your own happiness and the right to defend your own life—two rights which are linked as one in freedom—if ACT ever had a reason to exist then it was to promote the policies of freedom and individual rights, i.e., policies like this, while all around them parties were peddling the opposite. That they’ve rarely if ever done so has led them to the place they are now: which is to have made themselves completely and deservedly unelectable, and incapable of promoting the very policies their party’s leader (and many of their members) would like them to promote.
Mind you, at least the party’s other John is leaving. That can only be good news for ACT’s few remaining freedom-lovers who do want to promote the right thing in a party committed to principles, not just politics. I do genuinely wish them good luck. (One John down, one more to go?)
UPDATE 1: And here’s another John, and this one’s talking gibberish.
UPDATE 2: Eric Crampton makes some excellent points:
… ACT would do best to return to its classical liberal roots - that there's an unserviced space that's relatively liberal on economic and on social issues. As a right-wing rump to National, more liberal on economics but conservative on social issues, they'd be bound in the spot occupied by the Greens on the left - forever taken for granted by the dominant coalition partner because they couldn't plausibly bring down the government in favour of a coalition led by the main party on the other side. And, I've also thought that staking out a position on marijuana legalization could be a good way of signalling a move to that space. It would confound the usual narrative dominated by right-left thinking and, in so doing, bring a lot of positive press for ACT as it moves into a different space.
So I was really pleased to hear Don Brash musing about marijuana decriminalization over the weekend. Sure, decriminalization hardly goes far enough: if the trade remains illegal but possession legal, production remains split between informal household production among those into gardening, friendly informal supply among friends (albeit with risk that comes with growing more plants than is needed for personal use), and the gangs. Cactus Kate is right: full legalization is better.
…Brash [has] tried to pull the Party to the liberal side - a move that makes sense, but is hard given ACT's starting point. It wasn't made easier by that a bunch of people who claim to support marijuana decriminalization started piling on making fun of Brash's policy move. Yeah, you know who you are. It's all hip to make fun of the 70-year-old who's obviously hardly come within smelling distance of pot and pretend that he's a dope-head for advocating policy change….
If the result of pushing for rational policy discussion is to be made a laughingstock even by those who purport to support rational policy, it ain't hard to figure out the likely effect on the supply of rational policy discussion… There's no way that the politicians will lead public opinion on this one, but there's good chance they'd follow. [However] if even the pundits who agree with legalization make fun of the politicians who support it, no chance of any kind of policy move until there's obvious public support…
The issue's now dead. And ACT probably is too.