Chris Christie’s welcome sanity on the war on drugs

I have mixed feelings about the governor of New Jersey, but this does make me like Chris Christie just that much more:

Andrew Sullivan has part of the transcript up:

[L]et us reclaim the lives of those drug offenders who have not committed a violent crime. By investing time and money in drug treatment – in an in-house, secure facility – rather than putting them in prison. Experience has shown that treating non-violent drug offenders is two-thirds less expensive than housing them in prison. And more importantly – as long as they have not violently victimized society – everyone deserves a second chance, because no life is disposable. I am not satisfied to have this as merely a pilot project; I am calling for a transformation of the way we deal with drug abuse and incarceration in every corner of New Jersey.

The rest is here. If only more people on the left and the right would start talking this way.

Reihan Salam writes:

I want all politicians, and in particular all conservatives, to pay careful attention to this: Christie highlighted a dangerous gap in the system that limits the discretion of judges to keep violent offenders behind bars. Yet he also made the case that nonviolent drug offenders should be given treatment rather than imprisoned because (1) it is cost-effective, (2) it is decent and humane, and (3) it recognizes that we can’t afford to waste human potential.

By leading with a “punitive” strategy (actually, a commonsense strategy — it’s about preserving discretion) and then pivoting to a measure that will help members of a marginalized population, Christie demonstrates his political sophistication, his strategic vision, his guts, and his decency. This is a big deal.

Possibly. It’s certainly a welcome brand of conservative politics. But will it really appeal to other conservative politicians? In states where the drug war is far more popular than in New Jersey, I doubt this line of reasoning is going to resonate. Furthermore, most politicians aren’t Christie and can’t pull off the tough and sincere thing the way Christie can.

Salam points out that “Christie evidently doesn’t believe that taking this stand will limit his political future” writing that “his brand of conservatism can form the foundation of a coalition that captures centrist voters even in a heavily urban, diverse northeastern state.” Which is exactly why he doesn’t think this will hurt his political career. The fact that Christie is working to appeal to New Jersey voters means he doesn’t think it will hurt him with said voters. And national voters are going to be a lot more sympathetic to this line of thinking, if polls are to be believed, should Christie run for president someday.

Salam guesses that one reason Christie didn’t run for president this time around was the work he has remaining in New Jersey, noting that “ building a solid foundation there could be a great help if he does indeed pursue a national career.”

I think it’s more likely that Christie is simply very good at reading the political winds. He knew he’d be up against a formidable opponent in Romney and an even more formidable opponent in Obama. It’s harder to go after an incumbent than it is to run at the end of the other party’s two terms. Any sensible observer would see how bad the odds are in 2012 and Christie is nothing if not a savvy politician. 2016 is a better year for Republicans, and I think Gingrich and/or Romney will learn this the hard way.

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