War on terror, war on porn

Why an Administration that really wanted to wage a “war on terror” wouldn’t try to wage a “war on porn” at the same time.

Having taken a couple of hard shots at Glenn Reynolds, I owe it to him to give him credit when he gets one right, as I think he does about the latest Justice Department anti-porn push. I agree that it’s a thoroughly bad move, and I agree that in this case the bad decision is probably linked to Ashcroft personally.

This isn’t about kiddie porn, or even about the truly outrageous hardcore stuff: apparently Ashcroft has hired a veteran anti-porn crusader, who intends to go after the stuff that gets piped into hotel rooms.

Reynolds points to Jeff Jarvis, who reports a unanimously hostile response from the blogosphere. If anyone finds a dissenting voice, let me know and I’ll link to it.

Everyone, including Glenn, points out how silly this looks in the face of the terrorist threat; don’t those guys have anything better to do?

I actually don’t think that’s the real issue here, since the actual resource level being devoted to this nonsense seems to be moderate: 32 prosecutors and investigators are said to be the core of the effort. (DoJ, including the U.S. Attorneys offices, employs several thousand lawyers; the FBI alone has 12,000 agents.)

The real issue is intrusiveness, and the perception that the powers of the Federal government are being used to push a narrow-minded, moralistic agenda. This sort of policy will tend to alienate voters and legislators who might otherwise, in the aftermath of 9-11, be prepared to cut investigators and prosecutors some procedural slack, and to support more spending on law enforcement.

Announcing the anti-porn drive now seems to me an act of self-indulgence on Ashcroft’s part, reflecting the same fundamental unseriousness about “being at war” reflected in the Administration’s fiscal policies, its indifference to measures that might actually reduce our dependence on imported oil, and its hardball partisanship. After Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt replaced “Dr. New Deal” with “Dr. Win the War.”

If Mr. Bush really thinks of himself as a “war president,” he ought to think whether “Dr. Please the Base” needs to spend more time at home with his family.

Update

A reader points me to Justin Katz of Dust in the Light, who thinks enforcing the porn laws is a Good Thing. He compares the suffering of religious people subjected to an endless barrage of sexually suggestive material to the suffering of non-relgious people if they were subjected to a comparable barrage of prosyletism, which I wouldn’t have thought to be the strongest way to make his case. He also makes the point made above about the relatively small resource commitment, though I think he understates what that commitment is.

(In an update, Katz links to an Instapundit post on sexual activity as a preventative of prostate cancer, but doubts that “watching other people have sex” has comparable benefits. I don’t think I agree, but I’m disinclined to explain why on a weblog likely to be read by minors. If Mr. Katz is really curious, I’m sure that former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders could explain it to him, with diagrams if necessary.)

Jim Leitzel at Vice Squad knew about the crackdown before I did.

Second update Using Eugene Volokh’s mind to figure out why a crackdown on porn is a bad idea seems a little bit like using a howitzer to swat a fly, but my, oh my, it’s fun to watch!

Third update Justin Katz responds to Volokh, arguing that the crackdown will reduce the extent to which porn is pushed in the faces of people who aren’t interested in seeing it.

He could be right. I still doubt this is a good time to be waging this particular crusade.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “War on terror, war on porn”

  1. The Fly Distracts the Driver

    Honestly, pornography is not high on my list of topical priorities. Nonetheless, believing my opinion to be correct, a sufficient challenge merits an escalation. Well, Mark Kleiman provides such a challenge when he proclaims, "Using Eugene Volokh's min…

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