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Bush, Gore And Judge Judy by Sean Gonsalves
Published on Tuesday, March 14, 2000 in the Cape Cod Times
Bush, Gore And Judge Judy
by Sean Gonsalves
 
Well, now we're down to George W. and Al Gore - a good indication that presidential political spectrum will probably continue to be quite narrow.

No need to despair. I think sometimes we put too much stock in presidential power, regarding it as a rival to monarchical authority. It isn't.

Besides, we seem to elect the personality; not the person, which is why it's hard to say which is more authentic and edifying: presidential campaigns or the kangaroo court that Judge Judy presides over. (We'll come back to Judge Judy in a minute).

Fortunately - and contrary to popular opinion - the seat of government power does actually belong to The People, even if The People are constantly bombarded with "news" and other propaganda that often obscures the truth with out-of-context facts and scares the rabble with "hard truths" about modern existence.

Here, I'm thinking about the man-on-the-street impression that crime, in general - and violent crime, in particular - is "out of control" when, in fact, so-called street crime has been declining steadily over the past few years to the utter astonishment of many criminologists.

All this is to say that it's possible to get the candidates to talk about issues that are actually important to millions of Americans. How? With organization and agitation. And that's exactly what a coalition of 36 organizations representing nearly a million members is doing.

The National Coalition for Effective Drug Policies is calling on the presidential candidates to re-evaluate the war on the poor, which some people refer to as the "war on drugs." (Sure, there's collateral damage but make no mistake about it: the war on drugs is a war on the poor in the Americas - North, Central and South America - that's having a particularly devastating effect on the darker-hued part of the population.)

"The drug issue has been one of the biggest head-in-the-sand issues of this presidential campaign. It has broad impacts on many domestic policies yet it is not being discussed by the candidates or raised in the media," says Kevin Zeese, co-chair of the coalition.

"Rather then focusing on the past drug use of candidates or their spouses, we should be examining whether the war on drugs is a sensible policy or whether new approaches should be considered," Zeese said.

To that end, the coalition sent a letter to the presidential candidates of the Democratic, Republican, Reform, Libertarian and Green Party. Even the YWCA signed onto this thing.

Here are a few of the 10 questions that were asked in the letter: "This February the United States (surpassed the mark of) two million people behind bars - 25 percent of the world's prisoners. This incarceration rate is driven in large part by drug offenders. Do you believe that we should continue to rely so heavily on incarceration as a solution to drug problems? If not, what specific changes would you recommend to decrease the prison population?

"Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with other Supreme Court justices, and every federal judicial circuit, have called for an end to mandatory sentencing statutes. Do you agree with them? Will you support efforts to repeal mandatory sentencing and return sentencing authority to judges?

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the largest source of new AIDS cases is injection drug use; this is particularly true for cases involving women and infants. In fact, 60 percent of AIDS cases in women are attributed to dirty needles and syringes. What would you do to face up to this new source of the AIDS epidemic? Would you support lifting the federal funding ban for needle exchange programs?"

And now is probably a good time to bring up Judge Judy again. Judy Sheindlin, the tough-talking "Judge Judy" on TV, was recently on a two-week book tour in Australia. Speaking to a lunch audience, she called needle exchange a program advocated by "liberal morons." Her suggestion for how to deal with intravenous drug users? "Give 'em dirty needles and let 'em die....I don't understand why we think it's important to keep them alive," she was quoted as saying in the Brisbane newspaper, The Courier Mail.

So far several corporate sponsors, including Herr's Potato Chips and Papa John's Pizza, have pledged to stop advertising during her show because of the remarks. Even conservative columnist Arianna Huffington decried the comment in a recent column.

I would be interested in hearing how Bush distinguishes his "compassionate conservatism" from the Judge Judy variety, rhetoric aside. And would a President Gore follow or lead us away from the "new Democrat" drug policies of the Clinton administration, which is pushing for $1.6 billion in new military aid for Colombia; despite the Colombian military's heinous human rights record in its 40-year-old civil war against the poor in that nation?

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist. He can be reached via email: sgonsalves@capecodonline.com

Copyright 2000 Cape Cod Times.

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