In politics, it’s rather rare when two influential men make the metaphorical reach, across their political aisle, to attempt to make a difference in something they can both see the need to change. Senator Rand Paul, one of President Obama’s greatest critics, has joined forces with Attorney General Eric Holder, in what many may find an unlikely cause for a staunch Republican and the attorney general—softening sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders.
The desire to soften the sentences comes after Congress voted to abolish the 100-to-1 disparity in 2010. This dealt with the disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine, for which the sentencing was vastly different and based on amounts of the drug. The policy was called racially discriminatory. In 2005, 80 percent of cocaine arrests were of African-American males with crack cocaine, according to the African Civil Liberties Union. If you were still confused about the ratio thing, possession of five grams of crack cocaine would mandate the same minimum sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine. Clearly, this is unfair and illogical. Both Holder and Paul see this inequity, and are going to try to work together to fix it.
Furthermore, Holder and Paul would like to try to reduce sentencing for men who were put in prison before the law was struck down, as well as allow early release for nonviolent drug offenders. The idea of releasing nonviolent offenders early on the grounds of good behavior doesn’t strike me as negative in any real sense. These men often undergo rehabilitation of some sort while in prison, and at the end of the day, they were put in there for wanting to get high, which admittedly may not be the best decision, but it’s decidedly better than a murder attempt. I would hate it if my moral relativism turned this into a philosophy paper, but it seems a fair point.
Perhaps more impressive than the individual act attempted by Holder and Paul is the suggestion made by their unusual alliance—that the “war on drugs” is finally being viewed as the massive waste of government funds that it always has been. It’s clear by looking at Colorado and Washington that public opinion is shifting in relation to drugs. I’m not equating cocaine to marijuana, but the point deserves to be made that it appears Americans and their perceptions of drugs are constantly changing.
Something else that’s nice to see here is a very rare example of bipartisanship. Just last month, Rand Paul filed suit against the Obama administration to stop its electronic dragnet of American phone records, according to the New York Times. To go from that lawsuit––which, by the way, I don’t totally disagree with––is a pretty stark contrast to working with a high-ranking member of the Democratic Party and the Obama Administration.
Hopefully this is more than an attempt at some good PR, and is a true coming together of different sides, with the goal of accomplishing something they both have in common. It reads like the script of a Hollywood movie, so we just have to hope something doesn’t go horribly wrong—Hollywood doesn’t do happy endings, and it seems so often that neither does Washington. In an America where the political system resembles a bunch of 14-year-old kids learning to drive through their first roundabout, it’s no surprise we hear more about the miscommunications, the arguments and the crashes, than we do the rare moments of cooperation. Let’s take this one for what it is, and hope for the sake of all involved, that we get a happy ending.