America?s Leadership Deficit and the Art of Political Pandering

If you were hoping that Americas Leadership Deficit would end this November, you are going to be sadly disappointed. If the Republican debates didnt destroy your hopes for meaningful change, it is highly unlikely you will find your enthusiasm lifted by watching the Democratic debates.

Last night, I decided to tune turn off a reasonably competitive basketball game to glance at the latest Clinton-Sanders soap opera. I could stand only about 15 minutes. The debate was moderated by PBS anchors no doubt to emphasize that this year the US can (and likely will) elect its first female President. Will that remedy our leadership deficit la mme chose.

When I tuned in, the two candidates were resorting to their typical sophisms that characterize American political discourse. Theyshowed no specific remedies other than throwing more government resources at the problems, and advocating higher taxes on the “rich,” to pay for it. The rhetoric of treating American social failures was predictable. The solution set ofeachcandidate was truly null and void.

Sanders excoriated the truly lamentable statistics on the number of Americans now in prison—which he claimed without any substantiating evidence— now exceeds the totals imprisoned in China with a population five times greater. (Hard to know his source of information on the Chinese penal system). Forgetting the hyperbole, it is true that at the end of 2014, over 1.5 million people were held in American prisons. It is sad, never mind the Chinese comparison.

The candidates focused on the composition of the male prison population that includes some37% black males, 33% Hispanic males and 22% white males. No gender equality found here! Moreover, and this was the real point of the debate—drawing in minority voters—the most obvious remedy was overlooked, and their attention centered almost exclusively on cleaning up American police force methods and police profiling. They ignored the fact that more than 50% of those incarcerated got into prison via convictions for drug offenses. The obvious solution—repealing our current drug laws—was never mentioned. Instead, our criminal justice system was condemned for carrying out the laws that legislators such as these two have passed or allowed to remain on the books.

Neither candidate —at least during the few minutes I could stand to watch—took up George Shultzs recent Op Ed piece in the WSJ (“We reduced smoking, why not drug use” 2/9/2016) that focused on the abject failure of our War on Drugs. Doing that should have been obvious, but these two candidates werent really interested in effective solutions. They were interested in pandering tovoters. Since non-whites aresome 70% of the prison population, it was obvious that discrimination against non-white drug offenders was rampant. With low skills, poor education, deficient family structures, are we surprised that the lucrative earning power of dealing drugs by unemployed and unskilled males is compelling Neither candidate questioned whether the real problem in America was punishing people for their sumptuary preferences and the large economic rents these productsgenerate to those willing to risk catering to that demand. Instead, what was recommended was teaching policemen to be unprejudiced in their law enforcement efforts and making the racial composition of the police forces mirror the racial composition of the neighborhoods they policed.

We dont have to exonerate police who have frequently used racially focused tactics, including unofficial racial profiling, when they arrest suspects. Even with explicit withdrawal of racial profiling, policemen know the stats and their arrest behavior is understandable. The problem is not profiling: the problem is our drug laws are out of step with the population and our War on Drugs tends to arrest the foot soldiers of drug distribution. Regarding the nature of the social ills that our society suffers, tastes have changed. Marijuana is not viewed as a scourge. Many states allow its production and use and some its distribution, taxing the drug that they cannot control with police and prisons.

What cries out inany rational assessment of Americas drug demand is that we need to reduce the gains from dealing drugs. That means ending criminal prosecutions for these offenses and making our police instruments of civilian safety, not alocal drug gendarms. As for usage of harder drugs, Schultz cited the clear and well-documented drop in smoking that stemmed from well-documented research coupling smoking to serious diseases. What counts is to reduce the demand for dangerous substances, and not creating a black market in drugs that draws in the uneducated and low-skilled populations who distribute such products. Ironic and sad it is that two legislators, now Presidential seekers, dont focus on the obvious changes in our Federal criminal statutes that would reduce the scope of the problem. Neither do they put forward a solid program for instructing our people about the consequences of (hard) drug use. Americans growing use of drugs is not dealt with. Instead, Americas police, who try to enforce a much-outdated set of laws, are the whipping boys to advance these candidates electoral interests.

Perhaps the most cynical attack was from Sanders. He advocates more education in prison; re-training of prisoners; early release and continuing government transfer payments to low-income individuals. Any one who looks at the rather unfavorable statistics of retraining or improving education has got to feel that simply throwing more Federal money at the problems of low income, low skill people, is not going to be more effective than it has been to date. That is political escapism, at best, political pandering at worst. What it is not is real political leadership. That deficit is not going away soon!

In modern society, those that are poorly educated, poorly socialized and vastly unemployed gravitate unsurprisingly to benefitting fromthe rent streams that our faulty laws produce. What is needed is to reduce those rewards. That would berelatively easy, if not a sexy political pander job. Is that not obvious

Why dont the candidates deal directly with the problem and advocate realistic changes in our drug laws The answer is that would require real political leadership. The candidates, if they are expert in anything, are masters of pandering to the voters and offering more bread and circuses. Sadly, Americas leadership deficit is not about to end.