10 March 2014

U.S. conservatives going all progressive?

If Justice Minister Peter MacKay announcing that the Conservatives may soften marijuana laws came as a surprise, the change of heart among some conservatives in the U.S. is nothing less than a shock.

Addressing the 2014 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in Washington, CPAC's blogger of the year, Mary Katherine Ham, argued in favor of accepting marijuana legalization in states such as Colorado and Washington and wherever else it may be adopted. She argued that allowing people to make their own choices about their health was a core conservative value and might even reduce pot smoking by taking “the cool out of it.” Apparently, she got a good hearing from a highly receptive crowd.

And that ain't all. In a debate on security, when one panelist referred to Edward Snowden as a traitor, he was loudly booed. His adversary, arguing that it was conservatives’ duty to take the programs Snowden exposed as affronts to personal liberty, was much better received.

In a panel on criminal justice, Texas Governor Rick Perry, while not backing off on his state's use of capital punishment, defended reforms for nonviolent offenders that included “drug courts,” which give judges more latitude on sentencing and provide alternatives to incarceration. “You want to talk about real conservative governments?" he said, "Shut prisons down. That’s what can happen with these drug courts.” He was supported by fellow panelist Grover Norquist, the infamous anti-tax crusader, who suggested that conservatives could attack prison systems on the basis they are vast government bureaucracies.

Heady stuff, not at all what we expect from the Republican right, but maybe they are just tuning in to the real America. The country has sometimes been described as a land of liberals governed by conservatives. Perhaps that's changing, or maybe they are simply coming to terms with the fact that the best solutions to their nation's problems lie on the other side of the philosophical divide.

Perhaps Mr. MacKay's change of heart on marijuana is yet another example of the Harper Conservatives taking their cue from American Republicans. If they take these cues on security and prison reform as well, they will be making further progress.

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