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No Perfection in Presidential Politics

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I’ve expressed my frustration before (in posts I can’t seem to find right now) that none of the serious Dem. presidential candidates (apologies to Kucinich and Gravel) appear willing to take a stance against the Drug War or at least, more narrowly, against the 100-to-1 crack/cocaine sentencing disparity. I had hoped that Obama might prove me wrong. He hadn’t said anything about the issue on his webpage, but given that he is in many ways more progressive that Clinton (or at least, was before he got political consultanted into oblivion) and that he has a personal history of drug use (which perhaps necessitated a harder line stance on drugs), I still had some hope.

Disappointing, then to read today, via TalkLeft, that those hopes are dashed — or at least quelled. A Boston Globe column today exposes Obama’s ambivalence and equivocation with regard to drug war issues.

Though the candidate easily recognized that it was wrong to implement a 100-to-1 disparity in the first place, he backtracked when asked whether he would push to get rid of it as president (something Bush has – not surprisingly – opposed):

That vacillation became evident as he kept talking about crack-vs.-powder sentencing, which has come to symbolize racial injustice in criminal justice. He said that if he were to become president, he would support a commission to issue a report “that allows me to say that based on the expert evidence, this is not working and it’s unfair and unjust. Then I would move legislation forward.

Another useless study that would just get thrown on the pile of the thousands that have already demonstrated that the law is discriminatory and that it serves no legitimate penological purpose.

Obama claims that his priority is preventing young men and women from getting involved in the drug trade in the first place, at least in part by creating better economic opportunities for them. That’s an important — and worthy — goal. But the problem is larger than that; the crack sentencing disparity creates a cycle of using/dealing, arrest, and then release to use/deal again because of the amount of time served and lack of support upon release. Prevention is important. But it’s not, as Obama himself would say, the only place we should be spending our political capital.

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