2Chainz, Conservative Icon

During a debate with Nancy Grace over marijuana legalization, the rapper laid out a philosophy based on personal responsibility, limited government, and hard work.

The new Reagan? (Dan Harr/Invision/AP)

If you're looking for a concise summation for a certain strain of conservatism, you could do worse than the opening bars of 2Chainz's "We Own It"*:

Money's the motivation, money's the conversation
You on vacation, We gettin paid so
We on paycation, I did it for the fam
It's whatever we had to do, it's just who I am
Yeah, it's the life I chose

It's all right there: An entrepreneurial mindset, an ethic of hard work, a focus on business success, emphasis on family values. Underpinning it all is a philosophy of personal responsibility. 2Chainz isn't asking anyone for a handout; he's not asking anyone to backstop him if he fails. The risks he takes are his alone.

"We Did It," as it happened, came up during Chainz's un-turn-away-able interview with Nancy Grace about marijuana legalization Tuesday night. Grace asked the rapper about the lyric "I never feared death or dying/I only fear never trying." It was one of many diversions from the topic ostensibly at hand: marijuana legalization, and videos of parents trying to get their children to smoke pot.

Booking 2Chainz for the segment turned out to be a stroke of genius. (With luck, Grace will follow through on her Twitter vow to have him back regularly.) Despite a slew of random digressions—on 2Chainz's aliases, on his videos, and so on—what comes across clearly is his libertarian-conservative ethos. In making a case for marijuana legalization, 2Chainz advocates for limited government and limited intrusion into citizens' lives; decries wasteful spending; and insists on personal responsibility while espousing an essentially Thatcherite conception of a polity as a collection of individuals who can't and should not be abstracted into "society" writ large.

Here's most of the interview, in two pieces:

Kicking things off, Grace demands to know how he can back legalization in the context of the (truly disturbing) videos. Retorts the emcee, "I don't think that you could put an umbrella on the whole community from these incidents that you just named. You can't use these particular stories to define everybody that has recreational use."

While he points out that alcohol abuse or mental illness are often factors in such stories, his essential argument returns to the centrality of the nuclear family as the fundamental unit of a society. "I have two beautiful girls and I'm a great father," he said, noting that he doesn't allow his children to use caffeine, much less harder stuff. "I feel everybody should take care of their own. It's about governing your own household, it's about taking care of your own property," perhaps an implicit reference to George W. Bush's ownership society.

From there, 2Chainz took up a pragmatic libertarian approach to drugs. "I’m not sure if you know, but everybody has the ability to get their hands on pot now, whether it’s legal or not," he said wryly. He positioned legalization as a way to avoid overcriminalization, noting that drug convictions can hinder citizens' ability to get homes or to get loans, perhaps to start a business. (While he didn't mention racial disparities in arrest rates, he hardly needed to.) He noted that prisons are overcrowded, and citing an incident in which his entourage was hassled over drug charges that were ultimately dropped, he railed against an overweening police presence that limits liberty and wastes taxpayer money. Grace, a former district attorney, seemed oddly unaware of any of these arguments.

"We in a deficit right now, we’ve got to try to find ways on getting out," he said, sounding every bit like Alan Simpson, the former senator, deficit hawk, and sometime rap-video dancer. "If we’ve got half the states legalizing pot, that frees up taxpayer money, that allows us to use that extra money" for infrastructure repairs.

Later, during an exchange with his ex-prosecutor foil, the rapper showed what appeared to be a more adroit courtroom manner than Grace, sewing convincing doubts about her inferences from grainy videos: "Did you see him smoking weed? Who was actually shooting this? Let's go to court! ... I'm creating reasonable doubt." (At one moment, Grace realized what was going on and noted it, though she didn't rebut it.)

Grace, meanwhile, continued to try to force a statist, nannying approach to the matter. "Other people don't have the advantages you have," she said. "Everybody is not responsible!" But 2Chainz would have none of it. When she asked him if he smoked weed in high school, she walked right into his trap. "Would you want your children doing that?" she asked. Of course not, he replied.

"It was a means, a way of living," he said. "I did it for them. I sacrificed that for them so they wouldn't have to do it."

It's just the sort of up-by-the-boostraps story that's essential to fostering belief in capitalism: A hardworking kid from the city hustles through school (an honor student, the rapper went to college on a basketball scholarship), struggles through unsavory jobs, and then finds success—allowing his family to escape the cycle of poverty and better themselves. What friend of free society could object?

* This post originally gave an incorrect title for the song. We regret the error.