James Gregory is the self proclaimed Funniest Man in America. He gets credit for the observation, “Americans will do anything to lose weight except stop eating.”
We are like that about a lot of things. The simple, obvious answer to a problem is overshadowed by complications; old habits, religious beliefs, ancient customs, prejudice, and rhetoric. We will overlook the facts, try something idiotic forever, and refuse to consider changes that we believe won‘t work.
Our war on drugs is maybe the best example. Marijuana was declared a dangerous drug thanks to the boundless energy of one man, Anthony Comstock, who felt that marijuana, would unleash the latent animal tendencies in blacks and Hispanics. He got his buddy William Randolph Hearst to plant news stories to support his beliefs and sway Congress. Like a precursor to Fox News.
Many years later Richard Nixon noticed that most of the folks opposing him were dope smoking hippies. He had the power and made sure marijuana was classified as a dangerous drug.
Forty years hence we have spent billions annually to fight grass, imprisoned thousands of mostly poor people for possession, helped create an underground drug trade in this country that is responsible for a large majority of other crimes, and are contributing to the scary situation in Mexico by our consumption. And marijuana use today is at the same level as it was in 1970.
The US could save billions of dollars each year in legal and enforcement costs and collect billions more each year in taxes if pot were legal. Yet it is still political suicide for most politicians to support the idea.
Similar rules apply to gay marriage. Opponents claim legalizing gay unions will undermine marriage. I’m pretty sure adultery is much more damaging to the institution of marriage. Fooling around even has its own commandment. Yet no one is pushing to forbid adulterers from getting hitched. When has anyone else ever been asked about their sexual preferences in a job interview, or risked being kicked out of the military because they liked doing kinky stuff?
As more and more states crumble under the debt associated with overcrowding prisons, we still insist on things like three strikes, jail time for possession, and tougher sentencing. Anyone who thinks prison is rehabilitating its inhabitants is smoking something stronger than hemp. But tough on crime sure plays well on the campaign trail.
Yet those same law and order candidates are reluctant to deal with gun violence. What would happen if every incident involving a gun automatically became a Federal crime, with tougher sentencing in Federal jails? Would we reduce gun violence without infringing on citizens’ rights? No one wants to find out. The NRA is too powerful; and maybe a little confused. But then many of the rest of us are also perplexed about what to do.
Pro-life supporters are typically in favor of capital punishment. Struggling small business owners think regulation of financial giants is bad. Retirees with dwindling bank balances and rising insurance costs don’t want changes in health care. People who don’t do their own yard work support a crackdown on illegal immigration. And no one wants to legalize gambling and prostitution to provide badly needed tax revenue.
In the corporate world it is said that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is insane. In politics it is just business as usual.