The tide is turning in American politics. Those who say nothing will ever change in our world, that things only keep going from bad to worse, will no doubt be shocked to notice that people in power are starting to listen to the folks who put them there.

The latest news on this front:

(1) Ultra conservative Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has just said that he thinks putting people in jail for marijuana use is a big mistake.

(2) Another member of the U.S. Senate, Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri, has just said she thinks that government making same sex marriage illegal is a mistake.

Polls show that a healthy majority of the American people agree with both of them. The mistake has been putting these laws into place to begin with. And so this week we have seen even more high profile politicians — having failed to “lead” in the past — now at least following the lead of their constituency, which is far ahead of them on these issues.

It is a shame that citizens of arguably the world’s most powerful democracy have to lead the so-called “leaders” they have elected to lead them — but on the other hand there is something to be said for “better late than never” as far as the politicians are concerned. And it does offer hope that a better, more enlightened tomorrow may yet be on the horizon.

And now that we have big turnarounds by major political figures on marijuana jailings and same gender marriage — two huge social issues of the day — the next big question is going to be: When do you think America’s most powerful figures in Washington are going to follow American voters on the gun control issue?

Apparently the first step in changing the minds of political “leaders” is to change the words that are used to describe the social issues of the day. By altering the language surrounding these issues, supporters of social reforms can provide elected officials with sufficient “cover” to allow them to do what is clearly and obviously right.

In the gay marriage debate, supporters of same sex marriage have taken to using the term “marriage equality” to label their position. The phrase appears to have gained greater resonance with the American people — and so, their elected “leaders” can now more comfortably follow them under the tent.

In the gun control debate the words “gun safety legislation” are increasingly used to describe the new laws that gun control advocates have been trying to put into place for decades in gun-totin’ America. They seem, at last, to be gaining at least a little traction. The proposed ban on assault weapons seems doomed to defeat, but it appears that other measures, such as more stringent background checks on prospective gun buyers, have at least a slim chance of actually passing this year.

In the case of marijuana offenses, the now more-often-used wording is “non-violent crimes.” These softer, gentler verbiages allows many people to see things slightly differently. In the case of “marriage equality,” for instance, the newer phraseology has allowed Sen. McCaskill, representing a state that traditionally thinks of itself as rooted in more conservative American values (“I’m from Missouri, show me.”) to use the following line effectively: “Supporting marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is simply the right thing to do for our country, a country founded on the principals of liberty and equality.” She knows very well that this idea appeals to her constituency…even if the idea of gay marriage does not.

In the marijuana debate, the super-conservative darling of the American Tea Party befuddled liberal Democrats and left them flabbergasted over the last weekend by staking out a position that should obviously have been theirs — had they had the courage to take that position in the first place, long before he did.

Now — and forevermore during the next presidential election cycle — Sen. Rand, who is virtually certain to be vying for the Republican nomination for president in the U.S., will be able to say that he took the popular stance first, and mock any Democratic candidate who follows him as a Johnny-come-lately. And he’ll be right.

Sen. Rand said on a Fox News television interview show last Sunday that he doesn’t think people should be sent to prison for non-violent crimes. He does not, the senator was careful to make clear, support legalizing drugs. But he does highly recommend that judges be given greater leeway when it comes to sentencing convicted drug law offenders.

Currently, judges must adhere to mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases that come before them — the result of a conservative backlash several years ago and what the government then called its “war on drugs.” Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Mr. Rand are now jointly sponsoring legislation that would give judges more room to maneuver at sentencing time — effectively completely reversing our government’s earlier (and obviously ill-advised) stance.

In the interview, on Fox News Sunday, Rand was reported to have made his case this way: “Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use.” He invited the network’s viewers to consider “what would have happened. It would have ruined their lives. They got lucky. But a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys. They go to jail for these things. And I think it’s a big mistake.”

The statement, reported by writer Jordy Jager for The Hill, an online news service, raised eyebrows across the country — partly because it is so obviously right and people are not used to their leaders making observations that are obviously right, and partly because of the staunchly conservative credentials of the man making the statement.

“There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for non-violent crimes, and that’s a huge mistake,” Sen. Rand said. A video of his remarks on Fox News Sunday may be seen by pasting this link into your browser:

On the gay marriage question, Sen. McCaskill joins a growing list of U.S. politicians to come out in support of legalizing marriage for same gender couples. Writing in an entry she made on the internet site Tumblr the senator acknowledged on Sunday: “Good people disagree with me.”

Then she added, “On the other hand, my children have a hard time understanding why this is even controversial. I think history will agree with my children.”

And so it seems that in politics, as in everything else, our children shall lead us.


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