TIME politics

Pot-Dispensing Rabbi: D.C. Residents Deserve Legal Access to Marijuana

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, owner of the Takoma Wellness Center, dispenses medical marijuana on Oct. 10, 2014, in Takoma Park, DC.
Evelyn Hockstein—The Washington Post/Getty Images Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, owner of the Takoma Wellness Center, dispenses medical marijuana on Oct. 10, 2014, in Takoma Park, DC.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn lives in Washington, D.C., where he and his family own and operate Takoma Wellness Center.

Congress needs to back off and respect the wishes of D.C. residents to legalize marijuana.

Earlier this week, adult possession and use of marijuana became legal in the District of Columbia. There were no parties in the street or any kind of public consumption of marijuana. No one was hurt or arrested. No one got sick or died (at least not from marijuana consumption). The sky did not fall. One might not have noticed at all, had not Members of Congress from far-off jurisdictions threatened to jail our Mayor and Council and bully the residents of the nation’s capital into submission to their will.

Congress is doing its best to prevent D.C. from legalizing marijuana. As Yogi Berra might have said: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” In 1998, the citizens of the District voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. When Congress attempted and failed to halt that election, it blocked the counting of ballots. Once a judged ruled that the vote could be certified, Congress deployed the same tactics on display today to keep medical marijuana out of the hands of patients for 15 years. Finally, in 2013, D.C.’s medical marijuana dispensaries opened. My family and I own and operate one of them, Takoma Wellness Center.

D.C.’s medical marijuana law was blocked for 15 years. During that time, while Congress played politics with the lives of the citizens of the District of Columbia, tens of thousands of people suffered. Over that decade and a half, many of those people died.

For nearly 30 years, I served as a congregational rabbi. My rabbinate began in June of 1981 on the same day the first case of AIDS was reported in the press. The beginning of my career coincided with the beginning of AIDS taking its heavy toll on humanity.

As a very liberal rabbi in a very conservative town, where stigma and acceptance became large HIV-AIDS issues, I found myself one of the few local clergy to work in support of people living with HIV and AIDS. I spoke at many meetings, visited many in the hospital, officiated at many funerals. There were years when hardly a day went by without AIDS issues on the agenda.

Those years were before the first pharmaceutical drug was introduced to help manage the symptoms of AIDS. During those days, marijuana provided the best-known relief. Marijuana stimulated the appetites of those who could not eat. Marijuana soothed the pain of those who suffered. Marijuana brought sleep to those who could not slumber. Marijuana eased the minds of those who faced stigma and death. I know. I saw it with my own eyes.

My family and I had a very close and personal experience with marijuana as medicine. My late father-in-law, Jules Reifkind, had Multiple Sclerosis for more than 50 years. Of the many, many treatments he tried to help live with that condition, the one that really helped was marijuana.


One physician had suggested my father-in-law try it in the 1970s. He was dubious. It was illegal, after all, and he was a pretty conservative guy. But eventually he did… and the spasms noticeably eased. At the time I didn’t know that there was real medical science behind the reason marijuana helped, but I had seen the difference before and after. I know. I saw it with my own eyes.

AIDS is no longer the out-of-control epidemic it once was. And, like AIDS, pharmaceuticals have made MS far more manageable over the decades. But, just like AIDS at its worst, there are many, many conditions, diseases, symptoms, and injuries that are best addressed by marijuana.

Our patients are small children with seizure disorders that prescription drugs don’t help. They are victims of violence and terror, combat vets, and so many others living with post-combat stress. They are people living with the chronic pain that is the result of injuries, including gunshot wound victims and automobile accident survivors. They are folks dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy and prescribed medications, people living with neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia—the list is almost endless.

We see a lot of people who find marijuana far more effective and far less dangerous than the pharmaceutical medicines they have been prescribed. No wonder overdose deaths are significantly lower in medical marijuana states. For those in chronic pain, marijuana is usually more effective and always safer than opioids.

Our medical marijuana dispensary serves more than 100 people a day who, before they discovered marijuana, were suffering, helpless, and hopeless. And now, they are not. They have found relief. They have hope. Medical marijuana has made a difference in their lives.

Congress has a very big agenda with a lot of important things to do. Congressmen Jason Chaffetz, Mark Meadows, and Andy Harris have constituents in Utah, North Carolina, and Maryland deserving of their full attention. The tactics we’ve seen employed this week are sadly reminiscent of those used to delay the legalization of medical marijuana. The time to delay has passed. We’ve legalized marijuana in the District of Columbia. The sky didn’t fall. I know—I saw it with my own eyes.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

How a Little-Known Supreme Court Case Got Women the Right to Vote

Vote
MPI / Getty Images A poster, published by the League of Women Voters, urging women to use the vote which the 19th amendment gave them, from circa 1920

Happy birthday, Leser v. Garnett

Pop quiz: when did women in the United States get the right to vote?

If you answered June 4, 1919, or Aug. 18, 1920 — the dates on which the 19th Amendment was passed and ratified — then you’re almost right. Yes, the Amendment guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied on account of sex. But the right wasn’t fully secured until this day, Feb. 27, in 1922. That’s when the Supreme Court decided Leser v. Garnett.

Here’s what the case was about: Two Maryland women registered to vote a few months after the 19th Amendment passed. Oscar Leser, a judge, sued to have their names removed from the voting rolls, on the grounds that the Maryland constitution said only men could vote, and that Maryland had not ratified the new amendment to the federal constitution — and in fact, Leser argued, the new amendment wasn’t even part of the constitution at all. For one thing, he said, something that adds so many people to the electorate would have to be approved by the state; plus, some of the state legislatures that had ratified the amendment didn’t have the right to do so or had done so incorrectly.

The Supreme Court found that both arguments flopped: when suffrage had been granted to all male citizens regardless of race the Amendment had held up, despite the change to the electorate, and the ratification powers Leser questioned had in fact been granted by the Constitution. (And in a few states where things were iffy, it didn’t matter because enough other states had ratified.)

So, while the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, Leser made sure that the right could actually be used, even where the state constitution said otherwise. It’s not one of the more famous Supreme Court decisions in American history, but without it the electorate would be, well, lesser.

TIME politics

The Conservative Case for Legalizing Marijuana

William F. Jr. Buckley
Truman Moore—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty William F. Buckley Jr., riding in airplane en route to Washington DC, in 1965

American conservatives haven't always opposed legalizing pot

The United States’ latest skirmish in the battle over marijuana laws is still ongoing and, for lawmakers, it hits close to home. On Thursday, possession of a limited amount of the drug became legal for adult residents of Washington, D.C. — but, thanks to the intervention of a group of Congressmen, there’s still no way to legally buy it or sell it there, which may lead to the development of a “free weed economy.”

The legislative action taken to stop the District from developing a monetary economy for pot has broken down along party lines, with Republican lawmakers against the change in stance toward the drug and Democrats urging the city to go ahead.

It may seem like a natural thing for conservatives to be, well, conservative about changing drug laws — polls have shown that Republicans are much less likely than Democrats to support legalization —but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, there was a time during the 1970s when the nation’s leading conservative voices spoke out on behalf of legalizing marijuana, for many of the same reasons that advocates of legalization cite today.

At that time, in late 1972, a large study from the nonpartisan Consumers Union had just come out, urging legalization, as well as government-supported treatment for addictions to other substances. The report found that it was too late for law enforcement to keep pot from becoming part of American culture — and, surprisingly, its authors weren’t the only ones to think so, as TIME reported that December:

…American conservatives may have arched their eyebrows well above the hairline when they glimpsed the latest issue of William F. Buckley Jr.’s staunchly nonpermissive National Review. There on the cover was the headline: THE TIME HAS COME: ABOLISH THE POT LAWS. Inside, Richard C. Cowan, a charter member of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, sets forth his arguments that the criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use should be stricken from the books. Cowan contends that pot is comparatively harmless, demonstrably ubiquitous and that the laws against it only alienate the young and breed disrespect for American justice.

The attitude was a shift for Buckley, who in 1971 testified against loosening penalties but wrote in 1972 that he agreed with Cowan. “It seems, in fact, that Buckley has smoked grass himself—but only on his sailboat, outside the three-mile limit,” TIME noted. “His verdict: ‘To tell the truth, marijuana didn’t do a thing for me.'”

See the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Concerning Pot and Man at The National Review

TIME politics

FCC Votes ‘Yes’ on Strongest Net-Neutrality Rules

Net-neutrality advocates quite literally danced in the snowy streets Thursday outside the Federal Communications Commission in Washington just before the agency voted to approve the strongest ever rules on Net neutrality.

The vote marks the culmination of a yearlong struggle that pitted grassroots Internet advocates and Silicon Valley tech giants against the titans of the telecom industry.

The FCC’s vote is considered a historic victory for so-called open-Internet advocates, and a major blow to big Internet service providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, which will now be subject to stronger regulations.

Crucially, the FCC’s new rules were designed to give the agency explicit legal authority to regulate broadband-Internet providers by reclassifying broadband under Title II of the federal Communications Act.

Because of a weedy legal issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found in January 2014 that the FCC did not have authority to regulate broadband, and therefore threw out the FCC’s previous rules on Net neutrality, which were passed in 2010. The court recommended that the FCC reclassify broadband under Title II in order to establish its regulatory authority. Mobile-phone companies and public utilities are also classified under Title II.

The ISPs strongly opposed the Title II reclassification. They argue that the move will destroy innovation and investment in the nation’s digital infrastructure by imposing burdensome regulations on the industry. For example, under Title II, the FCC technically has the power to dictate how much ISPs can charge customers for online access.

The FCC has vowed it won’t regulate broadband as strongly as it could and that it will not control broadband prices. The new rules include a line guaranteeing that the FCC will not regulate “unbundling, tariffs, or other forms of rate regulation.”

Many Net-neutrality advocates, including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, who did not immediately support Title II reclassification, have announced their support for the move recently. Clinton said at a conference on Tuesday that the move is the only plausible option available to the agency, which needs to establish its legal authority in order to regulate broadband at all.

Earlier this week, Republicans on Capitol Hill said they would not actively oppose the FCC’s new Net-neutrality rules, since any new bill would be nearly impossible to get through Congress without Democratic support. But Verizon, AT&T and their trade group, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, aren’t giving up quite yet. They are expected to sue the FCC again this year in an effort to have the rules thrown out.

The stakes in this battle are high. Net neutrality, the concept that an Internet-service provider can’t block, slow or otherwise hamper users’ access to any online site, has an immediate impact on nearly every business and individual in the country.

One of the biggest sources of controversy has been over what’s known as paid-prioritization agreements or Internet fast lanes. Open-Internet advocates and Silicon Valley tech firms, such as Google, Amazon and eBay, lobbied hard that any new Net-neutrality rules should explicitly forbid ISPs from collecting payment from web companies for delivering their content to Internet users more quickly or in higher quality in paid fast lanes. A record-breaking 4 million people wrote to the FCC last year to comment on its proposed Net-neutrality rules. The majority of commenters supported a version of Net neutrality that prohibited fast lanes.

The ISPs, meanwhile, have argued that paid-prioritization agreements should be allowed, and that the notion was not at all at odds with the concept of “Net neutrality.” (Comcast, for example, has spent millions of dollars on advertisements saying it is in favor of neutrality rules. But its definition of Net neutrality allows for paid-prioritization agreements.) The FCC’s new Net-neutrality rules, passed today, bar paid-prioritization agreements.

The FCC’s 3-2 vote Thursday broke down on party lines. Both Republican commissioners opposed the rules; all three Democrats, including chairman Tom Wheeler, who has close ties with the telecom industry, voted in favor of it. When the vote was announced, the room exploded in cheers.

Read next: The Other Reason Cable Companies Are Sad Today

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TIME politics

Jeb Bush’s Sense and Sensibility

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

The candidate’s grown-up tone is a breath of fresh air amid so many strident conservative voices

In a week during which Rudolph Giuliani went crusader-ballistic questioning President Obama’s patriotism–indeed, questioning his upbringing–Jeb Bush gave a speech about foreign affairs, the third serious policy speech he’s given this winter. Giuliani got all the headlines, of course. That’s how you do it now: say something heinous and the world will beat a path to your door. And Bush’s speech wasn’t exactly a barn burner. His delivery was rushed and unconvincing, though he was more at ease during the question period. He was criticized for a lack of specificity. But Bush offered something far more important than specificity. He offered a sense of his political style and temperament, which in itself presents a grownup and civil alternative to the Giuliani-style pestilence that has plagued the Republic for the past 25 years.

It has been the same in each of Bush’s three big speeches. He is a political conservative with a moderate disposition. And after giving his speeches a close read, I find Bush’s disposition far more important than his position on any given issue. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air. I disagree with his hard line toward Cuba and the Iran nuclear negotiations, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say about reforming Obamacare. His arguments so far merit consideration, even when one disagrees with them.

There is none of John McCain’s chesty bellicosity. Bush makes no false, egregious claims, on issues foreign or domestic. He resists the partisan hyperbole that has coarsened our politics. He even, at one point in his foreign policy speech, praised Obama for the position he has taken on–get a map!–the Baltic states. He proposes a return to the bipartisan foreign policy that was operational when this nation was at its strongest. And he criticizes Obama for the right things: his sloppy rhetoric, his lack of strategy. You don’t say “Assad must go” and then let him stay. You don’t announce a “pivot” toward Asia–what are you pivoting away from? You don’t put human rights above national security, as Obama has done in his arm’s-length relationship with Egypt, which is actually fighting ISIS on the ground and in the air.

Bush’s economic vision is traditionally Republican. He believes the economy is more likely to grow with lower taxes than with government stimulus. He doesn’t bash the rich, but he doesn’t offer supply-side voodoo, either. The American “promise is not broken when someone is wealthy,” he told the Detroit Economic Club. “It is broken when achieving success is far beyond our imagination.” He is worried about middle-class economic stagnation, about the inability of the working poor to rise–his PAC is called Right to Rise. His solution is providing more opportunity rather than income redistribution. We’ll see, over time, what he means by that. And he favors reforming the public sector, especially the education and regulatory systems, as a way to create new economic energy. “It’s time to challenge every aspect of how government works,” he told a national meeting of auto dealers in San Francisco.

This would be a good argument to have in 2016. It is a fundamental challenge to what the Democrats have allowed themselves to become: the party of government workers rather than a defender of the working-, middle-class majority. Bush has already drawn fire for his record as an education reformer, with his support for charter schools and educational standards. But his argument goes beyond that to a more fundamental critique of government. He has praised the work of Philip K. Howard, whose book, The Rule of Nobody, is a road map for de-lawyering and rethinking the regulatory system.

Again, the way Bush talks about governmental sclerosis is the important thing. It’s no surprise he’s in favor of the Keystone pipeline and hydraulic fracking–he’s invested in fracking–but listen to this: “Washington shouldn’t try to regulate hydraulic fracking out of business,” he told the auto dealers. “It should be done reasonably and thoughtfully to protect the natural environment.” There is no call to blow up the Environmental Protection Agency or ignore science. But there is awareness of a radical truth: that there is no creative destruction in government. The civil service laws written in the 19th century, the regulations written before the information age, are ancient, slow-motion processes that have corroded the government’s ability to operate effectively.

Bush’s fate will tell us a lot about the Republican Party. He does not seem to be an angry man, and the need to screech has been the great Republican vulnerability in recent presidential campaigns. His candidacy takes crazy off the table–no nutso talk about vaccinations or evolution or the President’s patriotism. Even if you disagree with him, his civility demands respect.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Singapore

Singapore’s Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew Is Still on Life Support

Lee Kuan Yew
Wong Maye-E — AP Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew attends the Standard Chartered Singapore Forum in Singapore on March 20, 2013

The former head of government was admitted to hospital earlier this month after falling ill with pneumonia

Singaporean officials confirmed on Thursday that the country’s founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, remains on life support in an intensive care unit.

The Prime Minister’s office released a statement clarifying Lee’s condition, after rumors swirled earlier this week that the 91-year-old former head of government had died.

“Mr Lee Kuan Yew is still warded in ICU at Singapore General Hospital. He remains sedated and on mechanical ventilation,” read the statement. “His doctors have restarted him on antibiotics, and are continuing to monitor him closely.”

Lee, who is largely credited with creating the conditions that allowed the former British colony to transform into a thriving international business hub, was first admitted to Singapore’s General Hospital on Feb. 5 after succumbing to severe pneumonia.

According to an earlier statement, Lee was both “conscious and lightly sedated” over the weekend.

TIME politics

Why Ronald Reagan Is Such a Big Deal at CPAC

Pres Ronald Reagan speaking at CPAC conference
Cynthia Johnson—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty President Ronald Reagan speaking at CPAC conference in 1986

The special relationship goes back to the conference's beginnings

It’s no secret that the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) loves Ronald Reagan. The agenda for this year’s event, which takes place this week, includes a screening of Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, the Ronald Reagan Reception and the Ronald Reagan Dinner.

Sure, the late president was conservative and CPAC is a conservative conference, but their connection goes deeper than that: not only did Reagan speak at the first ever CPAC in 1974, he also provided part of the impetus for its creation.

The key to the special relationship between the event and the politician is timing. When the first CPAC took place, Reagan’s position among conservatives was not the established spot on a pedestal that he occupies today. Rather, he was the subject of severe regret for many. And the reason for that regret was obvious: Richard Nixon.

As TIME explained later that spring, then-President Nixon had seemed like a safe bet, and proved to be anything but:

The alliance between Richard Nixon and the nation’s conservative ideologues has never been automatic or assured. His 1960 campaign, in which he compromised with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller on matters like civil rights and medical care for the aged, caused many conservatives to worry that he was far too willing to sacrifice philosophical principles for the sake of votes. They backed him for the Republican nomination in 1968 largely because he seemed more likely to win than their preferred candidate, California Governor Ronald Reagan. Explains Texas Senator John Tower: “Having gone through the debacle of 1964 with Barry Goldwater, we were not going to be lemmings again.” Moreover, according to Tower, “we received certain assurances from Nixon. So we felt that his inclination would be in our direction, even though he was never really regarded as one of us.”

…Now, more and more conservatives are uneasy about the President. They were pleased by some of his actions, such as his move to end the antipoverty program, his stance against busing, his Supreme Court appointments, his efforts to scale down the Federal Government’s activity and return revenues to the local levels. But they were dismayed by many of his other moves, including the wage-price controls that he imposed and the rapprochement with Peking. Says Frank Donatelli, executive director of the Young Americans for Freedom: “He certainly is not a conservative President so far as we are concerned. We do not see how his health-care program is much better than [Senator Edward] Kennedy’s. His conception of detente is riding roughshod over our friends, ruining our defense posture and ignoring the basic human rights of people within the Soviet Union.”

In the months that followed, Watergate would prove that distrust of Nixon well-founded, but it was already there when CPAC was held—and, in fact, much of that first conference was devoted to that very point. As the New York Times noted in its coverage, the message was “Richard Nixon has done us dirt” and a prominent political consultant added that “a substantial majority [of attendees] wishes the President would just go away.”

Meanwhile, the decision not to back Reagan seemed more and more of a mistake. He was chosen as a speaker at the very first CPAC, receiving what the Times called a “rousing, placard-waving welcome.” Reagan has been, as long as CPAC has existed, a symbol of the idea that compromising on conservatism is a mistake. After all, choosing the more liberal, electable candidate over him had resulted in the worst presidential disaster in American history.

In the years that followed, the relationship between Reagan and CPAC, established even before that very first meeting, grew. Reagan assumed the presidency and CPAC became a major force in conservative politics, each helping the other along. As TIME put it in 1986, “Speakers and delegates alike credited Reagan with having permanently changed the national agenda to make the conservative voice not just relevant but dominant.”

Read original coverage of CPAC 1986, including Reagan’s speech, here in the TIME Vault: The Tide Is Still Running

TIME politics

How the First Black U.S. Senator Was Nearly Kept From His Seat

Hiram R Revels
MPI / Getty Images circa 1870: Hiram R Revels

Feb. 25, 1870: Hiram Revels, a Mississippi Republican, is sworn in as the first black member of the U.S. Senate

Hiram Rhodes Revels was a rising star of the Republican Party in 1869. A gifted orator — a skill he’d honed in his pre-political career as a minister — he’d just won a seat in the Mississippi state senate when he delivered an opening prayer so moving it left the statehouse awestruck.

“That prayer, one of the most impressive and eloquent prayers that had ever been delivered in the Senate Chamber, made Revels a United States Senator,” Revels’ fellow Mississippi legislator, John R. Lynch, later wrote. “It impressed those who heard it that Revels was not only a man of great natural ability but that he was also a man of superior attainments.”

So why, when Revels was chosen the following year to fill one of Mississippi’s two empty seats in the U.S. Senate, did his appointment raise the ruckus that would land him on TIME’s top-ten list of contested officeholders? Because some Democrats argued that since the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to people of color (including recently-freed slaves), had been ratified in 1868, Revels had only technically been a citizen for two years — not long enough to meet the Senate’s requirements.

Their argument was quashed, and on this day, Feb. 25, 1870, Revels became America’s first black Senator, serving out the unexpired term in a Senate seat that had been vacated when Mississippi seceded from the Union. The state’s other seat had formerly been occupied by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The irony of that reversal wasn’t lost on Revels’ Senate colleagues, including Nevada Senator James Nye.

“[Jefferson Davis] went out to establish a government whose cornerstone should be the oppression and perpetual enslavement of a race because their skin differed in color from his,” Nye declared on the Senate floor. “Sir, what a magnificent spectacle of retributive justice is witnessed here today! In the place of that proud, defiant man, who marched out to trample under foot the Constitution and the laws of the country he had sworn to support, comes back one of that humble race whom he would have enslaved forever to take and occupy his seat upon this floor.”

While Revels might have taken issue with his characterization as a member of “that humble race,” he apparently didn’t mention it publicly. His time in office was marked by moderation and forgiveness. He was a staunch advocate for granting amnesty to former Confederates, provided they swore an oath of loyalty to the Union, and he spoke out against segregation, believing it only perpetuated prejudice.

“I find that the prejudice in this country to color is very great, and I sometimes fear that it is on the increase,” he said in one floor speech. Amid the tensions of the Reconstruction Era, he attempted to soothe the fears of his fellow politicians. In an argument for educating freed slaves, he promised, “The colored race can be built up and assisted … in acquiring property, in becoming intelligent, valuable, useful citizens, without one hair upon the head of any white man being harmed.”

Read a 1967 story about Edward William Brooke III, the first African American senator elected after the ratification of the 17th Amendment, here in the TIME Vault: An Individual Who Happens To Be a Negro

TIME politics

3 Lessons from the French Revolution European Policymakers Should Keep in Mind

Place de Grève at the Storming of the Bastille
Lebrecht/Getty Images Place de Grève at the Storming of the Bastille, Jul. 14, 1789, from an 18th-century engraving by Letourmy of Orléans

The moment has come to diversify our analogy portfolio

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

It has become a commonplace to compare today’s economic and political news with interwar Europe. The Great Recession is measured against the Great Depression and Paul Krugman has recently suggested that demands being made on Greece are like those the Treaty of Versailles imposed on Germany. In his new Hall of Mirrors, however, economist Barry Eichengreen argues that repeated comparison of our current moment with the 1930s has resulted in poor policy decisions. Policymakers managed to avert another depression but, once they did so, their mission seemed complete and their hands were tied. Radical reforms—of the type necessary to prevent another recession—proved politically impossible.

The moment has come to diversify our analogy portfolio. What happens, for instance, if we think about the Eurozone crisis in terms provided by the history of the French Revolution? The comparison may initially seem contrived, but it offers significant lessons nonetheless.

Consider: debt dominated public debate in 1780s France as it does in Eurozone negotiations today. For decades, the monarchy had struggled to effectively tax the Catholic Church and the nobility. For decades, as Michael Kwass has conclusively shown, the wealthy and super wealthy branded such efforts despotic; they used the resulting power struggles to their own, political ends. Appealing repeatedly to notions of the public good—new taxes would mean “the loss of our liberty, the destruction of our laws, the ruin of our commerce, and the desperate misery of the people”—they blocked all attempts to spread taxation more fairly. Social elites thereby successfully defended their own riches, made themselves popular spokesmen for the common good, and pushed France further into borrowing (since it could not tax). Norman noblemen and Paris magistrates were the Koch Brothers of their day: bent on conserving their own privileges by fueling grass-roots populism. Their effective depiction of the monarchy’s fiscal crisis as a result of its own opulence—even now, don’t we imagine the money was spent on Marie Antoinette’s dresses and the King’s hunting dogs?—made state finances look like moral, rather than political, issues. (For in-depth discussion of this point, see Clare Haru Crowston’s Credit, Fashion, Sex and John Shovlin’s Political Economy of Virtue).

Like many in the United States and Europe today, these critics of the centralizing monarchy played politics with money. None of these men—all members of the privileged elite—intended to start a revolution. But by blocking needed tax reform, they provoked a political showdown that eventually turned summer 1789 into a social, cultural, and economic crisis of unparalleled proportions.

Lesson One Revolutions are their most revolutionary when no one sees them coming.

Money and debt played a crucial role in further revolutionizing France. In one of the first acts of the Revolution (prior even to the storming of the Bastille), the National Assembly declared France’s existing debt “sacred.” Unlike the later Bolsheviks (who in 1918 defaulted on everything the Russian Empire had borrowed, thereby giving rise to the doctrine of Odious Debt), the French revolutionaries accepted an inherited burden. The formerly royal debt became the national debt, and the new political body faced the same fiscal problems as had the old. At the same time, however, the National Assembly also challenged all existing taxes because they had been imposed by the monarch alone (the French version of “no taxation without representation”). Monetary-fiscal policy at this point was not intentionally revolutionary. The National Assembly was in many ways conservative. Like Angela Merkel’s Germany and other core economies today, it insisted that debts had to be honored and bills had to be paid. Like critics of quantitative easing, its members recoiled from the thought of merely printing money. They demanded that France put “solid assets” behind its promises to creditors.

With debt on the books and taxes delegitimized, a small majority within the National Assembly moved to nationalize and then monetize lands held by the Catholic Church. Here any parallel between the current moment and the 1790s appears to break down. Today, austerity means shrinking the public sector, whereas balancing the budget in 1789 involved expanding it (since the state took over the Church’s traditional welfare-providing role as well as its property). The social effects of the measures, however, were strikingly similar: widespread resistance, popular unrest, and growing political polarization. And, as today, uncertainty and confused expectations led investors to flee risk and seek safe places to put their money. Commercial credit, the backbone of eighteenth-century economic growth, dried up overnight. Lack of confidence in the new regime quickly metastasized into a generalized collapse in trust. All debts came due at once.

Lesson Two Insisting on balanced books and sound money may be conservative rhetoric but it often has radical effects.

Since Maastricht, the EU has tried to use currency to create a stronger sense of European identity. So too did policymakers in 1790s France, who believed widespread use of a new currency (paper notes backed by the value of the nationalized properties) would force people to “buy into” the Revolution whether they supported its politics or not.

Like many Europeans and Americans today, most revolutionaries in the 1790s understood “liberty” as entailing both political freedom and market non-regulation. The majority within the National Assembly therefore embraced free trade in money as they had in grain. Radical monetary liberty—such that any merchant was free to accept the nationally issued paper for less than its face value—pushed both freedom and money to their breaking point.

As does the European Union, the French Revolution emphasized equality, rights, and citizenship. In both contexts, this political rhetoric collides with the social reality of growing inequality to create a feedback loop. A political choice (be it free trade in money or European monetary union) disrupts social-economic life; that disruption makes political ideals (such as liberty) seem all the more desirable and elusive; upholding those ideals causes further economic dislocation and social uncertainty.

Lesson Three Playing politics with money is a sure way to make policy decisions matter to ordinary people. The results are often explosive.

Rebecca L. Spang is the author of “Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution” (Harvard University Press, 2015) and a faculty member at Indiana University, where she directs the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies and is the Acting Director of the Institute for European Studies. Her first book, “The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture” was also published by Harvard.

TIME politics

Veterans Affairs Secretary Apologizes for Misstating Military Record

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2015, file photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs budget. McDonald apologized Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, for misstating that he served in the military's special forces
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald testifies on Capitol Hill on Feb. 11, 2015

While conversing with a homeless man, McDonald falsely claimed that he served in the special forces

(WASHINGTON) — Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald apologized Monday for misstating that he served in the military’s special forces.

McDonald made the erroneous claim while speaking to a homeless veteran during a segment that aired last month on “CBS Evening News.”

In a statement released Monday by the VA, McDonald said: “While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military. He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.”

The VA website says McDonald is an Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne Division. The Huffington Post website, which first reported on McDonald’s mistake, noted Monday that the 82nd is not considered part of special forces.

McDonald said he remains committed “to the ongoing effort to reform VA.”

The White House issued a statement Monday saying, “We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.”

President Barack Obama chose the former Procter & Gamble CEO to take over the scandal-plagued VA last year, and McDonald took office last July. The questions about McDonald’s service come as TV newsmen Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly have had their claims about covering foreign wars called into question.

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