GUESS WHO CARES ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF THE POOR?
Diogenes famously searched the world for the one honest man. Me? I’m still searching for the one progressive American President. Perhaps my problem is that I’m too young to remember the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson. But I do remember every president since then, and not one has fit the bill.
Today, we have a president in Barack Obama who spent years avoiding any serious effort to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the rich and who still refuses to endorse the rights of consenting gay adults to get married. And yet, he’ll still be the progressive choice in the next election. His opponent, you see, actually admitted that he isn’t concerned about the poor because they already have what they need – welfare. From a progressive standpoint, the choice might be clear, but it’s not exactly between 1 and 1-A. Like the old saw goes, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” .
Ah, my fellow progressives, but help is on the way, and from unexpected quarters. I’m talking about none other than Pat Robertson. You may remember Pat. He is to televangelism what the ambulance chasers are to law. After every pandemic or natural disaster, we’ve always been able to count on Pat to turn the tragedy into an opportunity to talk about sin and God’s judgment. Sometimes, Pat doesn’t even wait until the tragedy takes place. So, for example, after Disney World decided to hold a “gay day,” Pat responded that this will “bring about terrorist bombs; it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.” Pat’s God, you see, isn’t a big fan of gays, Muslims, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, “judicial activists,” secular humanists, the “liberal-biased media,” or concepts like “one man one vote” in countries (like South Africa) where the whites are in the minority. If people were dogs, you would definitely call this guy a pure bred Greyhaired Rightwinger. Not one of my favorite breeds.
But as the old cliche goes, every dog has his day. And Pat definitely deserves props for his comments this week. In case you haven’t heard, Pat came out in support of the legalization of marijuana. He claimed that pot should be treated like alcohol because the war on drugs is a failure. And he backed up this position with some of the most sensible words that have been expressed on the topic: “I just think it's shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance. The whole thing is crazy. We've said, 'Well, we're conservatives, we're tough on crime.' That's baloney."
What Robertson is referring to would be obvious to anyone who pays even a whit of attention to what goes on in the inner city. If the suburbs are the “college track,” the inner city is the “prison track.” Indeed, the plight of the African-American male today is something that would make the founders of Jim Crow proud. When these men are caught doing the same things as their white counterparts do in the suburbs – having a little toke --they enter into a life of disenfranchisement and captivity, whereas the boys and girls in the suburbs get a slap on the wrist and a stern warning from their parents.
According to a 2003 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32% of African-American men born in 2001 can expect to spend time in prison. That’s more than six times the rate of white people. It is a number that should shock our conscience, especially when we realize how much of this is due to the different ways that society treats blacks and whites when it comes to the enforcement of drug laws.
It is a sad commentary on our society that it takes a loon like Pat Robertson to speak out on the plight of the inner city. By contrast, our top political leaders pay the inner city no attention at all. They are too busy pandering to the middle class to notice that there are tens of millions of poor Americans who are casualties, directly or indirectly, of our so-called war on drugs. They live in an environment where the easiest way to “succeed” isn’t to go to med school or law school but to get a couple of cell phones and a scale and start dispensing narcotics. It’s difficult to imagine any inner-city family without at least some members who are caught up in the cycle of dealing, using, and serving time.
The way we neglect our poor continues to be a blight upon our nation’s claim to religiosity. The way we discriminate between “white crimes” and “black crimes” continues to be a blight upon our nation’s claim to justice. The way we pander to the middle class as if they were our most needy citizens continues to be a blight upon our system of democracy. And believe me, these problems have been going on long enough that we can’t solve them in a flash – it will take work and patience. But if you’re looking for a good place to start, listen to Loopy Pat. Let’s withdraw a bit from our war on drugs. And yes, let’s start with laying off the pot. This isn’t about the freedom to get stoned. It’s about freeing the inner cities from the power of the drug dealers and the criminal culture that they breed. Besides, drug users needn’t be thought of as criminals. Fools? Sure. But that doesn’t make them worthy of confinement.