The Campaign Spot

The Triumphant Moment of Three Popular Bad Ideas

Back during the argument about Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, I wrote:

The Obama administration’s persistent desire to hold talks with Iran was mentioned, time and again, in the campaigns of 2008 and 2012. Mitt Romney pointed out the spinning of Iran’s centrifuges many times over the past four years again and often on the campaign trail. Hagel’s been so pro-Obama that he was mentioned as a possible running mate in 2008, and has been discussed for the secretary of defense job every time it opened up under Obama. The likelihood that negotiations would not advance any U.S. interest, and instead amount to a propaganda win for regimes and groups hostile to us, is pretty clear. And yet America elected and reelected the guy proposing it. And he carried the Jewish vote by a healthy majority both times.

How many times are we required to save the American people from the consequences of their actions, dragging them kicking and screaming from a bad outcome they keep trying to run toward? If only a small portion of the American Jewish community is willing to loudly oppose Hagel over his “Jewish lobby” comments, how vehemently should those of us outside that community fight a battle that we are quite likely to lose?

At this moment, on three big fronts, we on the right find ourselves in the minority, opposing popular policies that would most directly harm those who disagree with us.

The first front is raising the minimum wage. Minimum-wage hikes make hiring entry-level workers more expensive, and probably slow hiring in those entry-level jobs. (Economists argue passionately about whether hiring slows a lot or just a little bit, but no one would argue that making workers more expensive makes businesses more eager to hire.) A minimum-wage hike will also have an economic ripple effect if employers raise prices to cover the higher wage costs.

The second front is extending unemployment benefits again. There’s nothing wrong with collecting unemployment benefits when you lose a job, but you’re not supposed to be on them forever, and at some point, those benefits create an incentive to not take that not-quite-good-enough job. Usually unemployment benefits can be collected for 26 weeks (six months); Congress offered additional federal aid during the recession, so that some could collect unemployment for as long as 99 weeks in states with extremely high unemployment. (That’s nearly two years.) Congress eventually cut that back to 73 weeks in the hardest-hit states — roughly one year and four months. As USA Today reports, “Last month, however, the House and Senate left for their Christmas break without renewing the program. As of Dec. 28, about 1.3 million people were cut off.”

At what point is the government, on behalf of the taxpayer, allowed to say, “That’s enough, you have to accept and begin work at the next job that’s offered to you”? Collecting unemployment benefits is certainly easier than working in a not-so-good job, but is it better?

The third front is marijuana legalization; the editors of NR offer Colorado a bit of applause for their recent change in the law. Sure, some people can use marijuana recreationally with no ill effects. But some percentage of users do develop an unhealthy focus on using it and/or addiction, and legalization is extremely likely to lead to wider use (after all, the risk of prosecution and legal consequences dropped from small to nil). The use by teenagers is particularly problematic, knowing what we now know about brain development, and widespread availability of those over 21 will make it more accessible to teenagers. In Colorado, they’re already seeing a “dramatic surge” of children eating pot-laced baked goods — cookies, brownies, etc. Go figure, a pot-using parent isn’t the most careful or responsible.

These proposals are all extremely popular. Hart Research finds 55 percent support extending unemployment benefits. Fox News finds 66 percent support raising the minimum wage. Gallup found 58 percent think marijuana should be made legal.

The arguments in favor of these ideas are pretty simple and straightforward: Higher wages! Helping the jobless! Legal use of a recreational drug that was pretty widespread even when it was illegal!

Opposition to these ideas usually requires a bit of thinking ahead: What if we end up making it harder for entry-level or unskilled workers to find a job? What if employers reduce workers’ hours in response to the higher hourly wage? What if our effort to help the unemployed has discouraged them from getting back into the workplace, and their longer stretches of unemployment are making it harder for them to get rehired? What if the very qualities that make marijuana enjoyable make it a very bad idea to have it widespread and in the hands of those under 21?

By and large, the public doesn’t want to think about those questions. And, at least at the moment, there’s no electoral benefit to trying to make them think about those questions.

UPDATE: This is a study of children ingesting marijuana, published in July of last year, when medical marijuana was legal in Colorado:

The proportion of ingestion visits in patients younger than 12 years (age range, 8 months to 12 years)that were related to marijuana exposure increased after September 30, 2009, from 0 of 790 (0%; 95% CI, 0%-0.6%) to 14 of 588 (2.4%; 95% CI, 1.4%-4.0%) (P < .001). Nine patients had lethargy, 1 had ataxia, and 1 had respiratory insufficiency. Eight patients were admitted, 2 to the intensive care unit. Eight of the 14 cases involved medical marijuana, and 7 of these exposures were from food products.