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World Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card July 4, 2004

Edwards as Veep; Legalizing Drugs

So John Edwards finds himself with the kind of national prominence he hungered for.

Not bad, for a lawyer who never ran for anything before his Senate race six years ago.

And judging from his performance in the Senate, he never planned on a legislative career.

No, there came a time in Edwards's life when he looked in the mirror and saw a U.S. President smiling shyly back at him.

The only mystery is what Edwards knew about himself that we haven't yet seen. What hidden qualities of leadership and wisdom? What fervently held beliefs that could guide his nation through difficult times?

We've seen none of these things, since he has never actually led anybody anywhere, and his opinions seem to be suspiciously close to what an election strategist might have told him it would be useful for him to believe.

Is it possible that what Edwards saw in the mirror on that fateful day was exactly what political flacks saw when they started touting him for President?

"My land, John, you're a good-looking fellow," he might have said to the mirror. "But not too good-looking. You have that semi-goofy boy-next-door quality that will make people vote for you. Especially women -- because you aren't threatening, you're just ... darling."

And hasn't it all worked well? Here he is, handpicked to be the vice-presidential candidate of a major party, which can indeed be an important stepping-stone to the Presidency four -- or eight -- years later.

Not only that, but he's infinitely more attractive and interesting than the candidate who picked him. The cameras are going to love him, even as they seem to curdle at the sight of John Kerry.

Nobody seriously expects vice-presidential candidates to "deliver" their home state any more. While North Carolina is one of the big ten states, and therefore coveted by both candidates, everybody knows that the only way Bush could lose in North Carolina would be to get caught dressed in women's underwear.

Nor does Edwards deliver a target constituency -- at least not one that has previously been identified.

And while there are those who will claim that Kerry simply chose the Democrat who was second-best qualified for the Presidency, we all know that's a joke. Kerry isn't even the second-best-qualified, and Edwards isn't in the top twenty-five.

Kerry is the most liberal Senator -- which means that he stands for something, even though he's spending his campaign pretending that he was just kidding about all those anti-defense and pro-spending votes over the years.

Edwards has spent six years proving that the only thing he's good at is running for office. And why shouldn't he be? The same qualities that gave him the power to sway juries will also work on voters. The well-turned phrase, the impassioned, honest-seeming delivery.

And no one will be bothered by the fact that as a personal injury lawyer, he learned the skill of being sincerely-outraged-for-hire. Because we're used to a certain level of insincerity from politicians -- in fact, we fully expect presidential candidates to be liars. We seem to judge them by the attractiveness of their promises, rather than on the likelihood of their actually keeping any of them.

And think of the comedy! Because you know that Kerry and Edwards will both run as "middle class populists" against the rich Republicans -- even though the Democratic pair are far richer than the Republican pair.

If Kerry wins, then eight years from now, Edwards will be the man to beat for the Democratic presidential nomination.

And if Kerry loses, Edwards might still come out smelling good -- if he works indefatigably on the campaign trail and the press likes him.

Four years from now, when Hillary is ready to make her move, the Democratic Party will be looking for a candidate who doesn't have a lot of negatives, who isn't marked as a diehard liberal, and who doesn't have a record that can be attacked. Edwards will be the only Democrat in a position to deny her what she thinks of as her right -- another eight-year stint in the White House.

Which means that if this election turns out correctly, and we stick with our much-vilified and ridiculed Abraham Lincoln to see us through the rest of this war against terrorism, I will actually find myself in 2008 rooting for John Edwards to win the Democratic nomination -- because the idea of Hillary as President is so hideous that even Republicans have to hope the Democratic Party will choose someone who is probably harmless as their candidate.

Think of John Edwards as the Warren Harding of contemporary politics. He just looks so darn electable, somebody has to nominate him for something. And his party certainly could have done worse.

*

I keep hearing that what America needs is to legalize drugs.

After all, a huge amount of our crime is funded by drug money. Let cocaine and heroine and marijuana and speed be legal, and suddenly the mob loses most of its serious income.

Not to mention the huge drop in petty crimes that addicts commit to get money for crack or weed.

The proponents of legalizing drugs invariably cite Prohibition. It failed! It was repealed! Therefore all laws trying to prohibit addictions should be repealed!

But let's look for a moment at Prohibition. Did it fail?

In one sense, no. Prohibition was the result of a massive, decades-long campaign against the liquor-swilling customs of the American male. Even though Prohibition ended up being repealed, the fact remained that the custom of tanking up every day at the saloon and coming home to beat the wife and kids had its back broken.

There are still plenty of regular drinkers, but they represent a smaller proportion of the American male population, and they consume less alcohol.

And Prohibition wasn't repealed because it failed. It was repealed because too many prominent people despised the law and flouted it openly. Because too few people insisted on rigorous enforcement of the law. Because too many people winked at violations of the law.

If those arrogant scofflaws had actually upheld the law, what might America be like? A place where drunk-driving rarely killed anybody at all. Where alcohol-fueled abuse of family members was vanishingly rare. A nation where almost no one lost days to hangovers or binges; where no one had to be fired because of alcohol; where marriages weren't destroyed by alcoholism, where children almost never had to sacrifice their childhood to take care of their drunken parents.

Here's the thing that the drug-legalizers conveniently forget: Drugs are devastatingly harmful whether they're banned or not. And if they were legalized, it is hard to imagine that the drugs themselves would not do far more damage to America than the crimes associated with drugs are doing right now.

A person on cocaine would still be unable to maintain a relationship or be reliable on a job, whether it was legal or not. A person on marijuana would still live in a haze of irresponsibility. Children whose parents were on drugs would be just as neglected as the children of alcoholics.

And even if drugs remained illegal for children, parents who were trying to teach their children not to let their lives be derailed by drugs would no longer have the law on their side. Instead, the kids would think of drugs the way they think of alcohol -- as something that is only "temporarily bad," and underage drug-taking would mean only that they were "early," not wrong.

Sane parents don't want to raise kids who become drug-taking machines, which is all that addicts function as. They want their kids to grow up to be full-fledged, responsible citizens. And they want their society to help them achieve that goal.

Furthermore, since drug-takers are parasites on society, producing next to nothing, but consuming as much as any productive citizen, our whole society would limp along, dragging these useless anchors through the bottom mud.

The drug-legalizers like to paint an idyllic picture of "harmless recreational drug use." But there is no such thing as harmless drug use. Long custom now makes it impossible to ban alcohol or smoking, but we also have long experience with the costs of unrestricted availability of substances that addict and destroy.

One thing is certain: If drugs are legalized, their use will increase vastly over what we have today. So, sure, maybe the drug kingpins will be put out of business; but the toll in broken homes, traffic accident deaths, unproductive workers, and dampened national creativity will more than take up the slack.

You want to know how to end the problem of drugs funding organized crime and provoking petty crime?

Stop tolerating drug use.

Don't leave it up to the police. If you know people who are using, then even if you don't report them, stop associating with them. When drugs are offered to you by someone, cut him off as your friend and ostracize him until he changes his ways.

The only reason drugs remain prevalent in our society is because ordinary citizens -- and, worse yet, opinion leaders -- either take part in drug use or refuse to report it when they see it.

I'm as guilty as anyone. Only once in my life was I knowingly in the same house as an illegal drug. A writer in Raleigh invited me to a party in honor of a writer who was visiting from Virginia. When I showed up, I was shown a plastic bag of something purported to be marijuana -- I wouldn't know -- and asked if I "minded."

To be sociable, I shook my head and tried to pretend that it didn't bother me.

The funny thing is, the people whom I was trying to impress with my "tolerance" were actually grossly intolerant of me. That was made plain both then and later. Drug users aren't tolerant, though they demand tolerance from others. Drug users are utterly, supremely selfish -- if it feels good to them, then they'll do it, regardless of what it might cost others, directly or indirectly.

Even if I didn't have the guts to call the police on the spot, I should have at least turned around and walked out, to show my contempt for people who flout laws designed to keep our society a decent place to live.

So the one time I actually was tested on this issue, I failed miserably.

I can only plead that I was taken by surprise. Now I would know what to do, and I would do it.

Decent Americans don't let other Americans take drugs. When we know of drug use and do nothing about it, we're part of the problem, even if we aren't taking the drugs ourselves.

These poisons hurt us all. And legalizing them will only hurt us more -- especially those of us who are trying to raise children who will grow up and become, in their own turn, responsible, productive parents.

Drugs are the enemy of every family. They're vampires that suck the life out of everyone they attack, and they especially prey on the young.

Legalizing them will only force us to remember why we made them illegal in the first place.

Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.


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