THE FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT
She speaks from the heart, not as a politician, and she pierces the political orthodoxy, sort of like a smarter, Democratic, saner, virtuous female version of Donald Trump.
(Excerpted from The First First Gentleman, August 2016, pages 451–454)
Ever since she had been a child, Melinda Sherman always had an instinct for doing the right thing. Not even her approaching Senate reelection could change who she was. Congressman Wilton Carlson was also a strong guide for her. Garth told her that Wilton had once said that politics was an emasculating profession. Wilton broke that mold. She’d always smiled at that. Politics was not going to emasculate her. She was a woman. Her strength came from a deeper place.
She called the war on drugs “stupid” and “a sin.” It is about the economics, she said. An undereducated and underprivileged minority male could make ten dollars an hour working at a fast food store or he could make a few thousand dollars a night by standing on a street corner. Far from discouraging criminal conduct, the government was incentivizing it. And then what happens is that the drug dealer is sent to prison. His conviction removes his economic opportunities. Then he is locked up with hundreds of other criminals with whom he makes fresh drug connections. All of this leads to recidivism, she said.
“No other country does what we do; with five percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons twenty-five percent of the world’s incarcerated individuals, despite the fact that we are the land of the free and that there are some very large countries with oppressive regimes and no rule of law. One in every one hundred and thirty-five Americans is behind bars.
And to those of us who are Christians,” she said, “I ask: what of Matthew 18:22, or Matthew 25:40? I believe that those words are a good guide to how we should deal with people for whom drugs are a problem. We certainly can be judged as a nation by whether or not we are humane to our offenders. Do we want to be the least forgiving nation in all of Christendom?
“The mounting rolls of the incarcerated are growing more full of people of color from poor neighborhoods every day. As for the so-called war on drugs, wealthy white people use illegal drugs as well but they are much less likely to be caught and convicted. Such a high percentage of the population must feel that the drug laws are all right to break. This is Prohibition and the results are the same. Large numbers of people had repealed the law in their hearts and huge criminal enterprises had sprung up to meet the demand.”
She also pointed out that there were significant foreign policy considerations.
“The massive incomes available from smuggling illegal drugs into the United States had turned our Latin American neighbors into havens for violent drug cartels.”
This may have been heard before. But no political figure of such high standing had ever been so forthright. It was considered foolhardy for her to make such a strong statement before her reelection. She only cared about taking that shot with her left hand, about hitting the dangerous target. She was not surprised and was pleased later to learn that she had struck a chord even among the conservative voters of Kentucky, who had an anti-authoritarian streak, dating back to the heyday of moon-shining and because a good many of them knew someone who had been prosecuted by the government. After all, even her Republican Senate colleague, a libertarian, agreed with her in many respects although he never had stated it so strongly or plainly, but he too had mined that same Kentucky political vein. But she had really captured their understanding when she equated it with the right to bear arms.
“It is simply wrong to blame the instrumentality,” she said, “and this is what is wrong with most gun control laws. They blame the gun. Don’t blame the gun. And don’t blame drugs. Think more deeply. If we blame the instrumentality we are in a sense absolving the individual. We lose sight of individual responsibility, which is the bedrock of our society. If someone does something illegal while using a gun or a drug, do not take the focus away from that individual conduct. Punish it. But punish the conduct. Punish the individual. Do not go looking for blame in some inanimate object. Hold individuals responsible. This is what we lose with most drug laws and most gun control laws.
“What most politicians are afraid of,” she said, “is this. They are afraid that if they do as I am doing right now, if they successfully advocate for good sense in our drug laws, that some prisoner will be released and that prisoner will commit some violent crime. Then a political opponent will try to claim that his or her advocacy led to some innocent person being victimized. Again, this is not thinking deeply. This is blaming the instrumentality of the release and not the individual who would commit the crime. Most politicians think that we their voters are not all that smart. But we are. The people of Kentucky are that smart. The American people are smart enough to see it clearly. Do you know how I know we are intelligent? We are smart enough to live in America.”
Her curious blending of more customarily considered conservative and liberal positions had become one of her hallmarks. She had done the same by standing as a fiscal conservative and demanding that other developed nations pay their share of their defense, which also pleased the liberal factions who wanted to lower defense spending. She had couched her liberal defense of same-sex marriage in conservative terms of supporting the American men and women in uniform. Here she had equated drugs with guns. Many conservative gun owners quickly saw the comparison, especially those already inclined to vote for her, and even some liberals who supported reform in the drug laws had to begin to see the connections. In fact, she felt that she was right all along, and she said it.
“No true conservative can really support our current federal drug laws, which empower the federal government to regulate what an individual puts into his or her own body in the privacy of his or her home. At the very most, a true conservative might be able to advocate that such regulation belongs at the local level, where the police and the public are neighbors and can assess the impacts. And no true liberal can continue to support this country’s quest to become the most punitive state in the history of the world and to do so at the expense of poor people of color,” she said.
“Outrageous” had been the word some had used to describe her advocacy of drug law reform and her other positions. For one thing, no politician in recent memory had ever used the word “Christendom” and few had ever openly quoted Jesus to further a liberal cause. Same-sex marriage was not popular at all among her voters, but they understood her argument about the gay men and women who served in the military. They also knew that this was a position that was more national in its latitude, that it was some- thing that was preparing their own Senator for the national political stage. And they were proud of her for that.
Many of them found a different word for her positions. And this was the word that was often trumpeted by much of the media, which still found her appealing and interesting because her appearances raised their ratings and her face on the front page sold more newspapers.
The favored word was “courageous.”
(Gerald Weaver is the author of the novel, The First First Gentleman, August 2016, London Wall Publishing. It is among other things a sly tribute to almost all the novels of Charles Dickens. His well-received first novel, Gospel Prism, was published in May 2015. Each of its twelve chapters paraphrases a great work, by Cervantes, Montaigne, Shakespeare, etc. Harold Bloom said it was “remarkable” and “charming but disturbing.”)