Richard Erlich: Bleeding hearts and macho wimps

They’re hardly the worst people in the world, but among the more annoying breeds of Americans are bleeding-heart conservatives and macho wimps.

I’m not bad-mouthing “compassionate conservatives” here. People should be compassionate; conservatives are people; so conservatives should be compassionate.

The bleeding hearts I refer to, mostly, are religious or social conservatives who can’t bear the thought of (figuratively) God’s straying sheep destroying their lives and, more important, damning themselves to hell.

Bleeding-heart conservatives want to intervene and save these lost sheep; they differ from bleeding-heart liberals because their interventions often involve serious jail time, and some of the lost sheep wind up as mutton.

The debate over gay marriage ultimately has to do with sodomy and sin and ancient and modern attempts to preserve the boundaries around categories — male and female, here — and semi-conscious programs to increase our tribe’s population by limiting sex to the reproductive.

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Ultimately, this is an important debate; more immediately, however, gay marriage is not that important. A messy compromise on domestic partnership will handle most of the practical issues. A growing proportion of Americans, if pushed, will accept “Different strokes for different folks” with gays, or allow that American adults have the right to go to hell as they choose.

Drugs, however, are of immediate importance.

States approaching bankruptcy can’t afford “the New Prohibition” of recreational drugs other than booze. We can’t afford the investment in policing; we can’t afford the gang wars over sales territories; and we can’t afford incarceration of people who hurt mostly themselves. Abroad, the United States can’t afford the figurative “War on Drugs” when it interferes with a far more literal war against the Taliban.

The 12-step people — Alcoholics Anonymous and its offspring — say that you really can’t help addicts until they want help, and they usually don’t want help until they hit bottom. You want to be a compassionate conservative? Make sure every addict who wants help gets help. No waiting time to get into rehabilitation programs — and good programs. Until then, let these lost sheep, too, go to hell in their own ways: Limit “intervention” to matters of public health.

The currently most troublesome macho wimps, in my unhumble opinion, are the people pushing the excellent slogan “Freedom isn’t free” — while militantly unwilling to take risks themselves.

There are arguments to be made against closing the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Those arguments do not, however, include, “Keep ’em locked up forever without trial in an iron cage ’cause I’m afraid to have a possible terrorist in my area code!”

Freedom is not free; neither is decency nor effective foreign policy. They all require risks. Indeed, to modify a bit a teaching of Thomas Jefferson, freedom, decency, and even crass policy all require, from time to time, that nice people will die.

Most Americans would be safer in a police state than a free one, but we haven’t gone to a police state. To establish unlimited police powers would be macho in a way. To do it to protect our own precious butts, however, is the act of dangerous wimps.

So, bleeding-heart conservatives and macho wimps: Toughen up! Throwing people in jail for doing some drug is not compassion. Wetting your pants in fear that a suspected terrorist might get acquitted and walk among us isn’t manly, or womanly: It’s wimp.

Richard D. Erlich is a professor emeritus in English at Miami University in Oxford, who is retired and lives in Ventura County, Calif.

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