It always comes back to values

After the recent election was over, one of my friends confided to me that in the final analysis that he was unable to vote in favor of Proposition 19, which would have treated marijuana like alcohol for adults. The reason was that marijuana is harmful, especially to children, and if the initiative passed it would be yet one more compromise and retreat away from our value system.

I really understand his concerns.

Almost everywhere we look today, we seem to be losing ground in what is healthy about our way of life. The examples are familiar to us all, such as the managers of the city of Bell and other cities ostensibly manipulating the finances so as to pay themselves unconscionable salaries and benefits, professional baseball players taking steroids, young people valuing their membership in juvenile gangs more than obtaining an education, and many more. So now we “legalize” marijuana, thus allowing additional moral backsliding and decay? For many people, this was simply too much, and they registered their protest at the polls.

My response is that we should follow the advice of Confucius, who said, “The first rule in being a wise leader is that you must first define the problem.”

So in that regard, we must remember that marijuana itself is not the problem, nor is it city finances, steroids, or even gangs. Those are just the symptoms. The problems — and the resolutions — are presented by the way we deal with these matters, and promoting viable alternatives to those harmful choices.

That is where values come into play. We must change the direction of the political landscape to favor programs that work, regardless of what today’s so-called political wisdom would have us believe.

So what works? Basically four things: education, treatment and prevention, positive financial incentives, and individual responsibility.

So how can each of us help to change the direction of our country? The first part of the question is answered by the old saying that “the world is run by those who show up.” And the remainder of the question is answered by saying that all we have to do is again become Americans! Rekindle the “can do” spirit at every level of our society by rewarding success, stigmatizing laziness and “entitlements,” be open and available for scrutiny in almost every public thing we do, and focus upon things that work.

We can start this change of direction by opening our minds to viable alternatives, and by getting away from being so “politically correct” and having an almost automatic unreceptively to any recommendations from people we generally do not politically agree with, whether it is President Obama on one side of the political spectrum, or Sarah Palin on the other. That change will allow us to expand our focus, explore new approaches and rejuvenate successful old ones.

For example, the “political wisdom” for the last several decades has resulted in the mindless incarceration of too many people. Thus for decades politicians have built prisons and cut “liberal do-gooding” programs for drug treatment and children’s performing arts, support groups for recently-paroled felons, and things like “midnight basketball” leagues, which provide many young men and women with an opportunity to channel their energies into productive efforts instead of being involved in “midnight mischief.” These preventive programs work and thereby reduce crime as well as lost productivity, money and lives. But there is no political muscle behind them, and you and I simply must change that.

We should also stop blindly impugning the motives of people with whom we don’t always agree. For example, the overwhelming majority of people, including Tea Party enthusiasts, who believe we should regain control of our nation’s borders, are not racist; those who disagree with some of the positions of the government of Israel are not anti-Semitic; and those who fear terrorists are not anti-Muslim.

In addition, we should be more sophisticated and follow the advice we learned from “Deep Throat” during the Watergate era, which is to “follow the money.” So, for example, when discussing the deteriorated condition of our public school systems, we should look at who has a vested interest in the perpetuation of the status quo, which, yes, includes the teachers’ unions. Then we should listen to and assess their stated positions with that fact clearly in mind.

The same approach should be followed as to those who desire to have a perpetuation of big government. These are often a lot of wealthy people who are making money from government, such as with lucrative contracts, tax breaks and even subsidies for not planting crops.

Thus, whenever I read an op-ed piece in a magazine or newspaper, I first skip down to the bottom of the column and see who the authors are, and where their “bread is being buttered.” In other words, I ask myself the question, what’s in it for them? Everyone’s opinion should be assessed by asking that question, and that certainly includes me as well.

So who is speaking for the benefit of society as a whole? In my view, it is those people who argue for greater liberty. That means less governmental intrusion and interference. Understand that it is the economically and politically powerful people who almost always control government, so the less governmental intrusion and power, the greater the good for the greater number.

The bottom line is that liberty works! The soul of the United States, and what has made it great — and even exceptional — is not our government, it is our freedoms. So when we put our values back where they belong, which is to emphasize Freedom and Liberty, buttressed by the implementation of programs that emphasize education, prevention and treatment, positive financial incentives, and individual responsibility, we will once again be Americans. And then the other things will fall back into place.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)