Over at Volokh, readers have responded to Fred Thompson’s calls for questions on his policy platform with some damn tough questions:
1. What is your view of civil asset forfeiture in the absence of a criminal conviction? Would you make any changes in current executive branch policies, or propose any changes in federal forfeiture laws?
2. Do you believe that Gonzales v. Raich was correctly decided? If you were President, would your Department of Justice take action against patients and providers of medical marijuana who were acting in compliance with state law?
3. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, would your commitment to federalism compel you to veto a congressional bill banning abortion? Or in a post-Roe world would you seek to ban abortion by federal law regardless of the wishes of the individual states?
4. Which Attorney General do you most admire? Why?
5. Which, if any, federal gun control laws do you support repealing?
6. You were instrumental in securing passage of McCain-Feingold. Have your views on either the law’s effectiveness or constitutionality changed in the years since it was passed, and what would you do about the continually-increasing purview of the Federal Elections Commission? Would you favor new legislation to protect the Internet or non-profits from McCain-Feingold?
As one reader points out, as phrased, most of these questions are too arcane to be meaningful to voters who are not also lawyers or deep policy wonks. And there are good answers available — whether the candidate being asked these questions is Fred Thompson, some other Republican, or a Democrat:
1. The government should use every weapon available to fight the war on drugs. Civil forfeitures have a lower standard of proof than criminal convictions, to be sure, but don’t forget that the government still must show it’s more likely than not that a person has taken drug money before the forfeiture takes place.
2. (Republicans) Yes, the case was correctly decided. Although the states can implement whatever laws they want about drugs, there is a Federal interest in regulating drugs, too. This case may not be one of a recreational user or a massive drug dealer, but it’s important to demonstrate that these drugs are illegal to deter other people from trying to sell drugs to our children. It’s also important to fight drugs on the demand side as well as the supply side, and enforcing the law like this reduces both demand and supply. (Democrats) We have to reserve the right to enforce our drug laws against serious criminals, and that means we need Federal anti-drug laws. As President, I would direct federal law enforcement authorities to review all state laws to see if they were really carving out only compassionate-use situations or were just a cover for recreational use; if it turns out that it’s just getting a doctor’s note to cover for kids getting high, then yes, I’d authorize the use of Federal resources to go after these users. But I’d focus on big dealers and the most poisonous of the drugs out there.
3. (Republicans other than Giuliani) Overturning Roe is only one step in the process. For a while after Roe is overturned, some states will permit abortion and others will outlaw it. As President, I would use my political power to urge leaders in the various states to adopt laws that were protective of human life. (Giuliani) If Roe were to be overturned, then the question of abortion would go to the states. If I were President when that happened, I would urge the states to very carefully consider all of the issues — the moral issues, the legal issues, the tough decisions facing a woman deciding whether to bear a child or not — before making a decision. But at that point, it would be for the states. For myself, I’d like to see states pass laws that would make it easier for adoption to take place as an alternative to abortion. (Democrats) If Roe were to be overturned, I would lead a state-by-state effort to preserve a woman’s right to decide what to do with her own body, and at the same time pursue a Constitutional amendment reinstating that right once and for all.
4. Edward Bates, who was Abraham Lincoln’s Attorney General and urged the emancipation of slaves in the south. Bates saw that it was the right thing to do morally, it was the right thing to do legally, and it was the right thing to do to help end the civil war. It took a while, but eventually he convinced his President to follow through on the promise of full equality for all Americans.
5. (Republicans) Most of them. Gun control should be left to the states, and the states need to abide by the Constitution. There should be a system in place to protect against criminals and other dangerous people from getting guns, but like it or not, the Constitution gives law-abiding citizens the right to keep and bear arms and as President, I would use my power to see to it that the government enforces that right. (Democrats) None of them. The production and sale of assault weapons, Saturday night specials, and other cheap, lethal weapons is a national disgrace and a threat to our children that some Americans have to face every day and every night. We owe it to these people to take that fear away from them so our streets and homes can be safe again.
6. McCain-Feingold is intended to reduce corruption in politics. The internet is a place where politics can happen — and Americans who comment on political events on the Internet are exercising their Constitutional rights, and we should encourage that. I do not interpret McCain-Feingold to apply to individual Americans who simply comment on political issues; it only comes in to play when the website gets used to raise money for a candidate or a cause. At that point, it becomes a special interest group, and it should be regulated like all special interest groups — that is, by requiring disclosure of where the money came from and where it’s going to.
But these are all long, wonky answers to long, wonky questions. And it’s unlikely that any candidate — especially Fred Thompson, who seems to be running a light-on-substance, heavy-on-personality campaign — would give deep thought to the questions or the answers. I like wonky answers to questions, but that’s not how elections are won. And if the Message For The Day is, for instance, the candidate’s bold new direction for America’s foreign policy, it’s entirely likely that the answer to every question would be to support the troops, get them home successfully and safely, and to increase America’s prestige in the world.