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Are Rand Paul and Cory Booker all tweets and no action?


On Dec. 23, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) had what is typically termed by the media as a Twitter meltdown.

In a nod to Festivus, a holiday from the TV sitcom Seinfeld marked by an ‟airing of grievances, Paul spent the morning sniping at everything about being a United States Senator that ticked him off. He complained about obvious political issues like the national debt and the Federal Reserve, as well as the Seinfeld-ian daily minutiae of life in the world’s greatest deliberative body (with a 15 percent approval rating):

At the tail end of his tirade, Paul pulled in Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Senate’s king of Twitter:

Now, Paul is good at leveraging Twitter to generate publicity, that’s unquestionable. Booker, on the other hand, is a jedi master.

While still the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Booker used a hyperactive Twitter account to rocket his way into the national political stage—no small feat for the mayor of a city with a population of only about 275,000 people. Booker is so adept at Twitter that he was able to openly flirt with a stripper over the service while in the midst of a political campaign and have the entire thing come out as a net positive for political career. (Just think about that one for a second.)

The odds Booker wouldn’t respond to Paul’s jab were low, but the conversation that ensued quickly progressed from jokey banter into substantive policy:

The reaction to this exchange was immediate and powerful. For political observers who view the nearly half-century war on drugs as an unmitigated disaster that has cost taxpayers in excess of a trillion dollars and reinforced a destructive racial caste system, legislators crossing aisle to make a very public vow to stop the drug war is kind of an enormous deal.

Social media may be derided as mechanism that primarily forms echo chambers with liberals in one cloister and conservatives in another. But Twitter appeared to spark mutual cooperation on a serious issue. As a result, the whole thing was hailed as a Festivus miracle.

Now cut to the end of March: It appears as though the spirit of Festivus has fizzled.

The fabled Paul-Booker effort to bring the drug war to a screeching halt has yet to materialize. A Paul representative said that, since the initial Twitter exchange, the senators have chatted about it but don’t have anything to show for it at the moment. Booker’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

‟While many of us are excited to have someone who has been vocal about the need to end the failed war on drugs in the Senate, the fact is Sen. Booker hasn't yet even added his name as a co-sponsor to any of the key criminal justice reform bills that have been introduced,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the drug law reform group Marijuana Majority. ‟Despite the pledge to team up on these important efforts, Sen. Booker hasn't signed on to the Justice Safety Valve Act that Sen. Paul introduced.”

‟Sen. Booker clearly knows how to talk the talk about the need to reform our failed drug policies,” Angell added. ‟I know that he arrived in the Senate only a few months ago, but hopefully it won't be too much longer until he starts walking the walk. Frankly, if we're going to change these arcane laws, we need him.”

This lack of action doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing is ultimately going to happen. Booker gave the whole year of 2014 as a time frame for taking on the drug war and there are still nine months left before Festivus comes ‛round again. But after the initial media flurry surrounding the conversation, the proposed partnership seemed to disappear with the news cycle.

Even so, considering that someone in the United States is arrested for marijuana possession every 42 seconds, every moment of delay in pushing reform does untold damage to the lives of those caught up in the federal government’s Sisyphean struggle against drugs.

Twitter didn’t just make this collaboration possible and promote it to around the globe—it also provides a lasting, permanent record, accessible by anyone with an Internet connection, that it happened in the first place.

This record can serve as a reminder for journalists to ask Booker what he thinks about recent efforts to legalize pot in his home state, New Jersey, and if he’d be willing to make a similar push at the national level. It’s a reminder for journalists to hound Paul about it during his seemingly inevitable quest for the GOP presidential nomination.

Most of all it’s a reminder that, while Twitter and American politics often mix in ways that can charitably be described as dumb, sometimes giving our elected representatives a 140-character virtual megaphone shockingly has the potential to do more good than harm.

Photos by David Shankbone/Wikipedia and Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)  | Remix by Jason Reed 

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