Pubdate: Tue, 01 Nov 2005
Source: In These Times (US)
Copyright: 2005 In These Times
Author: Garrison Keillor


Democrats Fled In The Face Of Danger

We Democrats are at our worst when we try to emulate Republicans as 
we did in signing onto the "war" on drugs that has ruined so many young lives.

The cruelty of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 is stark indeed, as 
are the sentencing guidelines that impose mandatory minimum sentences 
for minor drug possession-guidelines in the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act 
that sailed through Congress without benefit of public hearings, 
drafted before an election by Democrats afraid to be labeled "soft on 
drugs." As a result, a marijuana grower can land in prison for life 
without parole while a murderer might be in for eight years.

No rational person can defend this; it is a Dostoevskian nightmare 
and it exists only because politicians fled in the face of danger.

That includes Bill Clinton, under whose administration the 
prosecution of Americans for marijuana went up hugely, so that now 
there are more folks in prison for marijuana than for violent crimes. 
More than for manslaughter or rape. This only makes sense in the 
fantasy world of Washington, where perception counts for more than reality.

To an old Democrat, who takes a ground view of politics-What is the 
actual effect of this action on the lives of real people?-it is a 
foul tragedy that makes you feel guilty about enjoying your freedom.

If suddenly on a Friday night the red lights flash and the cops yank 
your teenage son and his little envelope of marijuana into the legal 
meatgrinder and some bullet-headed prosecutor decides to flex his 
muscle and charge your teenager-because he had a .22 rifle in his 
upstairs bedroom closet-with a felony involving the use of a firearm, 
which under our brutal sentencing code means he can be put on ice for 
20 years, and the prosecutor goes at him hammer and tong and 
convinces a passive jury and your boy's life is sacrificed so this 
creep can run for Congress next year-this is not your cross alone to 
bear. If the state cuts off your right hand with a meat cleaver on my 
account and I don't object, then it is my cleaver and my fingerprints on it.

I don't dare visit Sandstone Federal Prison here in Minnesota for 
fear of what I'd see there: People who chose marijuana, a more benign 
drug than alcohol, and got caught in the religious war that we 
Democrats in a weak moment signed onto. God help us if we form 
alliance with such bullies as would destroy a kid's life for raising 
cannabis plants.

Garrison Keillor is the host and writer of A Prairie Home Companion, 
now in its 26th year on the air. This adapted excerpted from 
Keillor's new book, Homegrown Democrat (Copyright  2004) is reprinted 
by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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