NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Shadows of Hope


July 1994

by Sam Smith, Long-Time Network Member

Shadows of Hope: A Freethinker's Guide to Politics in the Time of Clinton is excellent new analysis of our national politics by Sam Smith, the editor of The Progressive Review. Smith is probably the most respected "alternative journalist" in Washington, DC -- for his originality, for his honesty, for his values, and for his sustained political work at the community-level.

Shadows of Hope (Indiana University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-253-35284-3; $22.50) is (1) a powerful critique of Bill Clinton and his politics from the left; (2) a keen analysis of the current malaise in our culture and the aimless and contemptible politics that purports to represent us; and (3) an identification of decentralized, community-oriented measures that can begin to replace the political vacuum with real engagement with the problems facing us.

Sam Smith is an elegant and clever writer, and his book is a pleasure to read, and interspersed with bright observations and references from a galaxy of thinkers. Sam's keen ear detects how our language reflects the decay in our culture. For example, the "reinvention" of government advanced by Clinton & Co. speaks of the people as customers of government, but no longer as citizens. Members of Congress constantly wail about the plight of the American taxpayer. But, of course, whether in a "democracy" or a totalitarian regime, the people are taxpayers. Quoting the Mayor of Missoula, Montana from Parabola: The Magazine of Myth and Tradition, "What taxpayers do not do, and what people who call themselves taxpayers have long since stopped imagining themselves doing, is governing." Neither politicians nor the media see American citizens as governing the nation in any sense. They are now simply the passive audience who offer up their passions to manipulation, in exchange for the price of admission -- taxpaying.

Smith writes with a passionate commitment to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness, and to citizen participation in community. Unlike the view of the "communitarians," in Smith's view the Bill of Rights need not, and must not, be sacrificed to make America safer.

Throughout, Smith sees our problems with drugs as evidence of our political failings and political humbug. For example, "... the armed zombies wandering our streets are grim examples of what can be produced by a society that pretends they don't matter. By caring only marginally for the economic survival of our inner cities and not at all for their residents, by refusing them money, power, or even adequate audience, the system has created the environment in which the drug wars have flourished."

Smith's prescription is a fascinating mix of liberal and conservative, libertarian and green, scathingly critical of politics as usual played by the established parties of Democrats and Republicans. Smith genuinely respects the people without the cant of radical invocations of "the People."

Since at least 1988, drug policy reformers have been struggling to figure out how to fit reform into a political culture in which drug users and abusers are scapegoat number one. Shadows of Hope provides a useful reminder of the profound limitations of the dominant political culture and the identifies many potential points of opportunity for coalition building and reform. In my view drug policy reform can only advance as part of a comprehensive approach to the society's problems -- its health, housing, the economy, child-rearing, education, criminal justice, and its politics -- and this book provides an excellent context.

I would be exaggerating to call Shadows of Hope "essential reading" for drug policy reformers, but for those who are looking for an intelligent book about our politics, I heartily recommend this important new book.

[Sam Smith is one of the most creative members of the National Drug Strategy Network. He first expressed the idea of an organization to repeal mandatory minimum sentences by exposing the "horror stories" of injustice they caused. The result was FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) created by Julie Stewart, which was identified by the Legal Times of Washington as one of the most important players in criminal justice policy in Washington. Sam Smith of Washington, DC should not be confused with Sam Smith of Mayflower, Arkansas, well-known in the movement for his hard work for medical marijuana.]