The Joy of Marijuana?

Last week, Kamala Harris admitted that she had smoked marijuana and that, unlike Bill Clinton, she actually "inhaled."  Recreational use of marijuana should be legal, she declared, because "it brings a lot of people joy.  And we need more joy in the world."

I chuckled when I heard this, and it had nothing to do with my opinion regarding legalization.  There was something else, something disingenuous about the remark.  It's the kind of thing a politician comes out with rather than a person of sense.  It was a statement so geared toward gaining votes that it was utterly tone-deaf to the traditional connotations of the word "joy."  But then, our current field of Democrat candidates are not exactly subtle in pandering to the wishes of liberal voters.

Where Harris made her mistake was in selecting that word, "joy."  Pot may, or may not, make a person happy, and it is possible that it will relieve some of the discomfort and anxiety of those suffering from cancer and other serious diseases.  But if a presidential candidate doesn't know the difference between these sorts of responses and "joy," she is not just tone-deaf — she's not thinking.

Joy is a word that has enormous significance for any person of a spiritual nature and especially for any reader of the Bible.  While it is true that the Bible at one point connects a sort of joy with the drinking of wine (Psalm 104:15 — "wine that gladdens human hearts"), elsewhere, it almost invariably conveys a far weightier meaning: the crucial relationship of the believer with his God and the grateful acceptance of the gifts of deliverance, divine love, and peace.  The crucial elements in the Christ story are all linked by the concept of joy: the annunciation, the nativity, Christ's message of peace and joy, the ascension, and the promise of forgiveness and the hope of eternal life through Christ's intercession.

Within our civilization, there also exists a vast literature including the works of Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, Austen, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Flannery O'Connor, among thousands of others, that relates the Christian concept of joy.  It's for this reason that Sen. Harris's remark is particularly grating: it appears to trivialize a key element within Western civilization.  It makes one wonder how much she knows about that civilization and how much she has reflected on its importance.

The contrast with President Trump is striking.  Donald Trump ran on a handful of clear and consistent promises, and he has kept or is in the process of keeping every one.  Promises were not just something he made to get elected.  For the president, words have consequences, and they have a definite meaning.  He pledged to lower taxes and regulations on business, and he did.  He promised to end Obamacare, and in practice, he did, despite the thumbs down by Sen. McCain.  He promised to increase military spending and to make America respected abroad once again, and he did.  He promised to renegotiate disastrous trade deals, and he did.  What he does not do is throw words around that have no meaning or whose meaning shifts with the wind. 

For the president, it's never about the "meaning of 'is.'"  But for a politician, it's always that way, and Sen. Harris's remark smells a lot like the Clintons' use of rhetoric.  One wonders what else Ms. Harris might consider joy-giving.  How about Medicare for all?  Free college?  Open borders?  Voting rights for America's current 11 million illegals?  Abortion at or after birth?  Revocation of the Second Amendment?

Joy is a crucial element in our spiritual lives, but, as a basis for policy decisions, it is a flimsy and utterly subjective criterion.  That's why it's creepy to hear a politician admit that her decision on whether to support legalization is based on the presumed fact that marijuana "brings a lot of people joy."  What that comment masks is the underlying progressive belief in raw power — the idea that if half the electorate supports a particular piece of legislation, no matter how radical, that slim majority has the right to impose its will on the rest of the country.  It echoes the radicalism of the sixties, in which "Power to the People" was a persistent refrain. 

By the way, how does Ms. Harris know that marijuana brings people joy, other than the fact that she's used it herself?  Again, her remark seems thoughtless, perhaps because it's not really meant to be about the actual nature and effects of marijuana usage — it's about pandering to that segment of the electorate that supports legalization.  But if that's the case, it was a particularly inept use of language.  Why not simply say, I support legalization of marijuana for recreational use because 69% of Democrat voters in the upcoming primaries do, and I want to get elected?  Why bring in the idea of joy at all?

Perhaps because Ms. Harris has not thought seriously about the issue of legalization apart from its political impact.  Or perhaps because she has not thought very much about the meaning of the word "joy."

What sort of education did she receive back in the eighties at Howard University?  Formal education is not a critical qualification for public office, but education is.  Lincoln was almost entirely self-educated, while Ronald Reagan, the greatest president of the twentieth century, was a graduate of an obscure Midwestern college.  Regardless of how they were taught, both were educated enough to know that words have subtle and potent connotations, and that they must be used with care.  Sen. Harris, in this instance, does not appear to share this ability.  (I could probably include a few others, including one who employs the term "American Indian" rather loosely.)

Kamala Harris's statement that marijuana brings one "joy" is the whopper of the current election cycle — at least so far.  Hillary hasn't yet entered the fray, so we can't say for sure.  But when a presidential candidate announces that marijuana brings one joy, I can't resist asking: what's she smokin'?

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

Last week, Kamala Harris admitted that she had smoked marijuana and that, unlike Bill Clinton, she actually "inhaled."  Recreational use of marijuana should be legal, she declared, because "it brings a lot of people joy.  And we need more joy in the world."

I chuckled when I heard this, and it had nothing to do with my opinion regarding legalization.  There was something else, something disingenuous about the remark.  It's the kind of thing a politician comes out with rather than a person of sense.  It was a statement so geared toward gaining votes that it was utterly tone-deaf to the traditional connotations of the word "joy."  But then, our current field of Democrat candidates are not exactly subtle in pandering to the wishes of liberal voters.

Where Harris made her mistake was in selecting that word, "joy."  Pot may, or may not, make a person happy, and it is possible that it will relieve some of the discomfort and anxiety of those suffering from cancer and other serious diseases.  But if a presidential candidate doesn't know the difference between these sorts of responses and "joy," she is not just tone-deaf — she's not thinking.

Joy is a word that has enormous significance for any person of a spiritual nature and especially for any reader of the Bible.  While it is true that the Bible at one point connects a sort of joy with the drinking of wine (Psalm 104:15 — "wine that gladdens human hearts"), elsewhere, it almost invariably conveys a far weightier meaning: the crucial relationship of the believer with his God and the grateful acceptance of the gifts of deliverance, divine love, and peace.  The crucial elements in the Christ story are all linked by the concept of joy: the annunciation, the nativity, Christ's message of peace and joy, the ascension, and the promise of forgiveness and the hope of eternal life through Christ's intercession.

Within our civilization, there also exists a vast literature including the works of Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, Austen, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Flannery O'Connor, among thousands of others, that relates the Christian concept of joy.  It's for this reason that Sen. Harris's remark is particularly grating: it appears to trivialize a key element within Western civilization.  It makes one wonder how much she knows about that civilization and how much she has reflected on its importance.

The contrast with President Trump is striking.  Donald Trump ran on a handful of clear and consistent promises, and he has kept or is in the process of keeping every one.  Promises were not just something he made to get elected.  For the president, words have consequences, and they have a definite meaning.  He pledged to lower taxes and regulations on business, and he did.  He promised to end Obamacare, and in practice, he did, despite the thumbs down by Sen. McCain.  He promised to increase military spending and to make America respected abroad once again, and he did.  He promised to renegotiate disastrous trade deals, and he did.  What he does not do is throw words around that have no meaning or whose meaning shifts with the wind. 

For the president, it's never about the "meaning of 'is.'"  But for a politician, it's always that way, and Sen. Harris's remark smells a lot like the Clintons' use of rhetoric.  One wonders what else Ms. Harris might consider joy-giving.  How about Medicare for all?  Free college?  Open borders?  Voting rights for America's current 11 million illegals?  Abortion at or after birth?  Revocation of the Second Amendment?

Joy is a crucial element in our spiritual lives, but, as a basis for policy decisions, it is a flimsy and utterly subjective criterion.  That's why it's creepy to hear a politician admit that her decision on whether to support legalization is based on the presumed fact that marijuana "brings a lot of people joy."  What that comment masks is the underlying progressive belief in raw power — the idea that if half the electorate supports a particular piece of legislation, no matter how radical, that slim majority has the right to impose its will on the rest of the country.  It echoes the radicalism of the sixties, in which "Power to the People" was a persistent refrain. 

By the way, how does Ms. Harris know that marijuana brings people joy, other than the fact that she's used it herself?  Again, her remark seems thoughtless, perhaps because it's not really meant to be about the actual nature and effects of marijuana usage — it's about pandering to that segment of the electorate that supports legalization.  But if that's the case, it was a particularly inept use of language.  Why not simply say, I support legalization of marijuana for recreational use because 69% of Democrat voters in the upcoming primaries do, and I want to get elected?  Why bring in the idea of joy at all?

Perhaps because Ms. Harris has not thought seriously about the issue of legalization apart from its political impact.  Or perhaps because she has not thought very much about the meaning of the word "joy."

What sort of education did she receive back in the eighties at Howard University?  Formal education is not a critical qualification for public office, but education is.  Lincoln was almost entirely self-educated, while Ronald Reagan, the greatest president of the twentieth century, was a graduate of an obscure Midwestern college.  Regardless of how they were taught, both were educated enough to know that words have subtle and potent connotations, and that they must be used with care.  Sen. Harris, in this instance, does not appear to share this ability.  (I could probably include a few others, including one who employs the term "American Indian" rather loosely.)

Kamala Harris's statement that marijuana brings one "joy" is the whopper of the current election cycle — at least so far.  Hillary hasn't yet entered the fray, so we can't say for sure.  But when a presidential candidate announces that marijuana brings one joy, I can't resist asking: what's she smokin'?

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).