There are few people in the world I hold much more contempt for than the 113th United States Congress. The 112th was terrible, and it looks like the 113th is going to be consistent with the established terribleness trend of the last three years or so. The House is currently run by Republicans who have been more interested in finding a scandal worthy to throw President Obama out of office, than they’ve been in trying to get our country fully recovered from the economic crisis of the end of the Bush Era that left us staggering heading into Obama’s first term. They’ve symbolically repealed Obamacare thirty-seven times. They’ve sponsored personhood bills instead of jobs bills, and they’ve held scads of congressional hearings on Benghazi — a scandal that they have been so reluctant to let go of, even though it blew up in their face this week after it was revealed Republicans had doctored White House emails to get ABC News to release their propaganda.
Yet even as you find more and more evidence that our system of governance is in a very damaged and virtually non-functional state, there are those times you find yourself in awe of a particular civil servant who, despite the odds and the times we live in, is actually doing the right thing. If you watch or listen to any congressional hearing you’ll quickly catch on that they are essentially ways for Congressmen and women to get talking points on the record they can then use in campaigning and doing media interviews. You see them grandstand for five minutes about a subject they want to grandstand about, and then they ask a question or two. Depending on if they consider the witness to be on their team or not, the question will either be essentially, “Why are you such an asshole that hates freedom and America?” or “How come we haven’t cloned you yet, because you are perfect?”
This last week though, I actually did find myself wishing that one Democratic member of the House could in fact be used as a prototype from which to clone all other elected officials. It was during Attorney General Eric Holder’s marathon grilling in a House committee hearing that I first discovered Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat out of Tennessee that most certainly took his five minutes to further a cause he feels personally very strongly about. The difference between Cohen and just about every other member of congress who got to “question” Holder was that while Cohen did not mince words with Holder, he chose to ignore the scandals du jour that are distracting the country, and instead spent five minutes lacing into Holder over the administration’s insistence on toeing the line in the war on drugs.
Specifically, Cohen took the administration — but really the entire Federal government — to task for not hearing the winds of change, at least when it comes to marijuana legalization. Cohen’s statement was as follows:
One of the greatest threats to liberty has been the government taking people’s liberty for things that people are in favor of. The Pew Research Group shows that 52 percent of people do not think marijuana should be illegal. And yet there are people in jail, and your Justice Department is continuing to put people in jail, for sale, and use, on occasion, of marijuana. That’s something the American public has finally caught up with. It was a cultural lag. And it’s been an injustice for 40 years in this country to take people’s liberty for something that was similar to alcohol. You have continued what is allowing the Mexican cartels power, and the power to make money, ruin Mexico, hurt our country by having a Prohibition in the late 20th and 21st century. We saw it didn’t work in this country in the 20s. We remedied it. This is the time to remedy this Prohibition, and I would hope you would do so.
One thing you can’t do is overlook the fact that Cohen is a Democrat, but he’s coming from a very red state, so that should tell the world how ready we really are to make the right decision when it comes to how we handle marijuana in this country. No drug is without its side effects. No drug is harmless per se, but as Cohen points out, there is not a single reason for it to be treated differently from alcohol or tobacco, especially considering the long-term health risks are so much higher with both booze and tobacco products. Twenty years ago, it would be inconceivable that a congressman would actually openly advocate for marijuana legalization directly to the Attorney General of the United States, but that should tell you just how far the issue has progressed in Americans’ minds.
The War on Drugs is a failed domestic policy (perhaps it is the most egregiously failed domestic policy), and the war on pot has been the biggest injustice of all. More and more Americans are coming to realize the benefits we get from treating pot the same as heroin and cocaine are truly non-existent. Perhaps if more representatives were like Mr. Cohen, willing to use his time to advance a cause of the people, not of some political crusade against one foe or another, things would actually get done in Washington.
Rep. Cohen clearly “gets it.” He obviously understands his role, and understands what opportunities like going on the official record at a congressional hearing in front of the Attorney General are for — they’re to do exactly what he did. The only unfortunate side of Cohen’s statement was that it was the lone voice on the subject; it’s time to hold full congressional hearings into ending the war on drugs. Maybe if both sides of the aisle realized that they have a gold mine of bipartisan brownie points to score with the public instead of repealing Obamacare for the 38th time, or dragging out another “whistleblower” on Benghazi, we’d actually get somewhere on this issue.
America needs more elected representatives like Steve Cohen. For every Bachmann, there needs to be forty Cohens.