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Since when are Republicans sympathetic to drug addicts?

Aug 01, 2023

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Republican politicians are getting ready for the primary debate scheduled for Aug. 23. One debate topic might focus on how to address drug addiction and the growing fentanyl crisis in the United States. Legislation in the House provides law enforcement with the necessary resources to tackle the increasing danger of this lethal drug.

Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette argues that some GOP presidential candidates, like Chris Christie, actually seem sympathetic to helping addicts, rather than throwing them behind bars.

Christie said he still planned to try to stop fentanyl from coming across the border from Mexico and to continue to lock up drug dealers who profit from the misery of others. That’s what you’d expect from a former federal prosecutor with a reputation as a straight-talking tough guy. But the candidate was also surprisingly sympathetic to those who, as he put it “make a bad judgment in their lives” and who don’t need to be locked up or punished but deserve what he called a shot at “redemption.” 

When was the last time you heard a Republican — or for that matter, even a Democrat — running for office talking about offering “redemption” to an illegal immigrant from El Salvador? Or a Black teenager from the inner city who made a “bad judgment” and committing a crime? Right. Never.

You see, for politicians, there are good victims and bad victims. And they are a lot more compassionate and understanding when dealing with what they consider the good ones.

When it comes to figuring out how we should respond to wrongdoing and misbehavior, the modern Republican Party is caught somewhere between “Crime and Punishment” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

 

On the one hand, Republicans have spent the last 50 years or so — well before the Willie Horton ad was unleashed against 1988 Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis by famed GOP strategist, the late Lee Atwater. They spent all that time trying to scare up votes by convincing folks that they alone can protect us from the bad guys. The GOP has sought to brand itself as tough on crime and the party of law and order. 

 

On the other hand, when it comes to a group of people who break the law — or several laws because they’re drug addicts — well, then Republicans act, to quote Alice, “curiouser and curiouser.” They’re weirdly out of character and playing against type. Suddenly, Republicans become bleeding hearts, who want to give everyone with a drug problem counseling, a free pass and a lollipop. 

 

For decades, the GOP has marketed itself as the party that holds wrongdoers accountable for misdeeds. They have long wide voters to see them as unflinching hard asses who are tough on crime. Every political party needs a mascot and the mascot for Republicans isn’t really the elephant. It’s Dirty Harry, wielding a 44 Magnum. 

 

Now in a 2024 election, Republicans running for president are singing a different and much more lenient tune. When the topic shifts to drugs, these Republicans go soft and express compassion for drug addicts. One big softie in the 2024 GOP presidential field is former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In June, Christie participated in a CNN town hall from New Hampshire, where he fielded questions on various topics. Early in the event, speaking to parents across America, Christie talked about what happens when, quote, “the kids start to disappoint you and make it really hard. And sometimes that’s about drug addiction. I believe every life is an individual gift from God and it’s precious,” he said. 

 

Then a woman stood up to ask a question. A Republican, she confessed that her 21-year-old son was in jail after struggling with drugs, most recently, fentanyl. She declared the so-called “War on Drugs” a failure, and she asked the candidate what he planned to do about drug addiction. Note, the woman was not exactly clear about why her son was in jail, and what crime he had committed, perhaps to support his drug habit. 

 

Christie wants to end the war on drugs and focus instead on treatment, quote, “look, your son —  and I don’t want to pretend to know him — but I know a lot of people like him who have gone through this.” He told the woman, “I’ve had some dear friends who have lost their life to this. He has a disease the same way that some people have heart disease, diabetes. or cancer. It’s a disease and he can be treated, we need to make treatment broadly available to everyone who is addicted. We can not save every life, but many of those lives,” end quote. 

 

Christie said he still planned to try to stop fentanyl from coming across the border from Mexico, and to continue to lock up drug dealers who profit from the misery of others. That’s what you’d expect from a former federal prosecutor with a reputation as a straight talking tough guy. But the candidate was also surprisingly sympathetic to those who, as he put it, quote, “make a bad judgment in their lives,” and who don’t need to be locked up or punished but deserve what he called a shot at, quote, “redemption.” 

 

When was the last time you heard a Republican — or for that matter, even a Democrat — running for office talking about offering, quote, “redemption” to an illegal immigrant from El Salvador? Or a Black teenager from the inner city who made a, quote, “bad judgment” and committing a crime. Right? Never. You see, for politicians, there are good victims and bad victims. And they are a lot more compassionate and understanding when dealing with what they consider the good ones.

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