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    Smoke signals from the Democrats

    Hope and change are yesterday’s buzz words.

    Today, Democrats are turning straight to drugs to generate buzz.

    “Legalization of marijuana is going to become an issue,” veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine told the Globe. “I believe it’s an issue that will absolutely activate a voter base, of young people in particular.”


    Maybe it will energize the party’s liberal base — if those voters aren’t too stoned to get to the polls. But whether it’s aimed at the 2014 midterm elections, or at 2016, there’s something desperate-looking about the Democrats’ latest smoke signals.

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    Watching Republican Governor Chris Christie try to extricate himself from the still-unfolding tale of vengeance and the George Washington Bridge apparently isn’t reassuring enough for a party determined to keep the White House after President Obama exits. Neither is the Democrats’ commitment to immigration reform and gay marriage versus the Republicans’ counter- commitment to sequester and government shutdown.

    In an obvious pitch to the jobless and underemployed, Democrats are now pushing to extend unemployment benefits and raise the minimum wage. Even if you agree with those policies, you must acknowledge that a weak economy is driving the need for them. While the country has recovered from the worst of the recession, the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever and the jobless and the underemployed are getting more frustrated with the status quo.

    Many of those hardest hit by the slow recovery are young people. So what better way to motivate them than a march on Washington for the latest civil right — the right to get high?

    If Democrats need pot to get out the vote — especially the youth vote — they really do have something to worry about. Already, national polls highlight the problem. Young people are turned off by politics in general and by the president in particular. A poll of more than 2,000 18- to 29-year-olds, taken by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, revealed that half of those surveyed would recall Obama if they could. The president has a 41 percent job approval rating with these young voters, who are worried about the cost of college and the personal debt attached to it. Some 57 percent said they disapproved of Obamacare; 40 percent said they believe health care will worsen under the federal health reform law; and 51 percent said they believe health care costs will increase under Obamacare.


    Those voter concerns play out against the backdrop of a still-weak economy. The national unemployment rate is 6.7 percent and last month the unemployment rate in Massachusetts hit 7.1 percent, surpassing the nation’s for the first time in five years.

    Maybe the upward tick of the Bay State’s jobless rate explains why Massachusetts has been targeted by advocates who favor the legalization of marijuana.

    “In 2016, Massachusetts will find itself in the crosshairs for cannabis reform,” promised Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, a national group that is vying to get a question on the 2016 ballot calling for the drug’s legalization.

    If you can’t find them jobs, give them pot.

    I rarely agree with Michael Graham, the Boston Herald’s conservative columnist. But as he points out, it would be ironic for Bay State liberals to ban Styrofoam cups, bottled water, and smoking in parks, yet embrace a libertarian view when it comes to marijuana.


    Of course, it hasn’t happened yet. And so far, none of the candidates running for governor are getting behind the push to legalize pot. But the candidates are getting their pot-smoking confessions out of the way. Republican Charlie Baker and Democrats Donald Berwick, Steve Grossman, and Juliette Kayyem said they used marijuana. Democrats Martha Coakley and Joseph Avellone said they haven’t.

    If Democrats need pot to get out the youth vote, they really do have something to worry about.

    Back in the day, the Age of Aquarius was naturally aligned with Democrats. But the motivating issues were peace, love, civil rights, and gender equality. In this day and age, young people are going to align themselves with the political party offering the clearest path to work and upward mobility.

    People want jobs, not jobless benefits. An increase in the minimum wage is preferable to one that stays the same, but who wants to settle for earning the minimum wage?

    There’s not enough Purple Haze to obscure the grimness of that reality.

    Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.