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The Famous "National Conversation"


The Washington Post has a piece today asking for a respite from the seemingly ubiquitious cry for a "national conversation."  I hardly agree with everything the piece says, but I agree for sure with its principal idea, to wit, that the demand for a "national conversation" about X is never really an entreaty for an exchange of ideas  --  which is what one would ordinarily take "conversation" to mean  --  but a demand for immediate surrender to whatever agenda the "conversation" is supposed to be about.

What makes this relevant here is that the demand for a "national conversation" has cropped up in the last year about two prominent criminal law issues: the death penalty and drug legalization.

When Washington and Colorado passed referenda three months ago legalizing some forms of recreational marijuana, pro-pot organizations far and wide proclaimed that the door had been opened to a "national conversation" about how nifty it is to get stoned the Founders' vision of individual freedom.  Similarly, when Connecticut prospectively abolished the death penalty, it was time for a "national conversation" about how the justice system is suffused with racism, sexism, barbarism and the other ususal suspects (and thus that it's time for national abolition).

The call for a "national conversation" on these things is dishonest in two particularly galling ways.  First, it's not about a "conversation" at all.  It's the opposite: It's a demand that the rest of us shut up and listen to a monologue by the chattering class concerning how rancid the criminal justice system is.  Second, the inevitable tag line to the demand for a "conversation"  --  that it's "long overdue"  -- is an unintended but hilarious burlesque of liberal blathering.  The "conversation"  --  nay, flaming debate  --  about both drug legalization and the death penalty has been going on for decades.  What the chattering class really thinks is "overdue" is heads-bowed surrender to its dictates.

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