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Just say 'yes' to drug war?

Posted By Joel Miller On 03/07/2001 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Conservatives are a peculiar bunch when it comes to drugs.

While they smoke cigars and quaff jiggers of scotch, they drum their hands in thunderous applause when a pol says we should get tough on drugs, prosecute the pill-poppers and jail the junkies.

Why? Because drugs are bad, of course.

To mention otherwise, even for argument’s sake, is sure to get you pelted with insults and possibly given the bum’s rush. Besides announcing your approval for the legalization of pedophilia, there is precious little that will get you booted out of an Eagle Forum rally quicker than speaking in favor of decriminalizing PCP. Unless you’re talking about pedophiles using PCP, of course.

Except canonizing Bill Clinton, there is nothing worse in some conservative circles than recommending that we quit the effort to “undo drugs.” It’s the right wing’s eternal cause c?l?bre, regardless of one glaring problem: It’s amazingly unconstitutional and harmful to American liberty.

To wit: In enforcing drug laws, police rely on random searches of people and their property, in complete disregard for the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of probable cause. Further violating the Fourth, cops use broad and ambiguous character and racial profiling methods that bring scores of regular citizens under police scrutiny, regardless of actual wrongdoing. (Conservatives, like San Francisco talk radio host Michael Savage, are currently, er, savaging President Bush for suggesting these profiling policies be re-evaluated.)

The Fifth Amendment gets similar disrespect from narcowarriors afflicted by seizure fever. Sloughing off weighty constitutional concerns, police regularly nab property without due process and use filched goods to pad police department accounts.

Pitching lofty aphorisms like “to protect and to serve” to the wind, police even utilize no-knock raids on people’s homes. Famous for their shoot-first-ask-questions-later tactics, these military-like attacks endanger the innocent by placing them literally in the line of fire.

Further, the desire to widen the warfront has led federal bureaucrats to try skirting Congress to gain their objectives — showing little more than fanatical ambition and disdain for the constitutional balance of powers by dodging the legislative process.

And while party loyalists and grass-rooters may push for harsher prosecution of the drug war on principle, politicians rarely do it out of any sense of morality or duty. Usually ramming drug-control legislation through Congress has much more to do with politicking and one-upmanship than statesmanly concern for the commonwealth — just tapping into the public’s deep well of fear and the twin constituencies of prohibitionists and law-and-order types.

Ignoring all of that, however, the conservative crusaders, blistering with eagerness, demand we press ever-onward — waging war on dope with Gen. Patton-like determination and Gen. Sherman-like tactics. Any slack in the offensive is seen as dangerous to the cause, deleterious in its effect. And President Bush is beginning to feel the heat of the battle, some of which, like the fiery darts from San Francisco’s Savage, is being directed straight at him.

As the conservatives scan the scene, it’s been nearly seven weeks since Bush placed his hand on the Bible and swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic, and they worry he’s already broken the vow when it comes to domestic enemies: druggies and their dealers.

To date, Bush has left the position of drug czar as empty as he left Al Gore’s hopes and dreams some months back. Former Clinton Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey has bowed out, leaving his assistant to run the show, and rumor has it that the czar will not even keep a seat in Bush’s Cabinet.

Anxious to axe the addicts, the right is restless over W’s neglect. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s statement about wanting to “reinvigorate the drug war” isn’t cutting it. Conservatives need action, and Bush is giving about as much as a joint without a match.

“For a nation in which addiction has become a chronic problem and drugs take a devastating toll, that does not inspire confidence,” says conservative columnist Don Feder, going on to place a classified ad, of sorts:

    Wanted: A drug czar like William J. Bennett — who will bang the bully pulpit till the wood splits, confront the drug lobby in the ballot arena, and not neglect supply reduction and punishment.

This is not a comforting thought. No doubt an upstanding character who turns out a good book every now and then, Bill Bennett nonetheless falls right into the “awful” category when it comes to drug-czaring. His conception of the dope war is rigorous enforcement from the top, regardless of the federal government lacking any constitutional warrant to do so. Any other option is out, as far as Bennett is concerned — especially talk of scaling back the war or, horror of horrors, legalizing.

Back when he was the nation’s drug czar, Bennett gave a very impassioned address at Harvard University, expressing opposition to legalization, calling it a “scandalous position, intellectually and morally scandalous,” likewise dubbing it the “policy of neglect.”

Does “intellectually and morally scandalous” adequately describe conservative heroes like Charles Murray, Bill Buckley, James Bovard, Thomas Szasz and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, all of whom view the drug war as bad news?

In a 1997 feature in Intellectual Capital, Buckley (strangely enough) interviewed himself on the subject of legalization. The question: “If you could come up with ways to drastically reduce or eliminate drug consumption, would you endorse them?” His answer: “No. Because the only way to move beyond where we already have arrived is to imitate the anti-drug policies of Singapore. You can’t do that and have civil liberties at the same time.”

In an open letter to Bennett, published in the Wall Street Journal during Bennett’s stint as drug czar, Friedman wrote,

    The path you propose of more police, more jails, use of the military in foreign countries, harsh penalties for drug users, and a whole panoply of repressive measures can only make a bad situation worse. The drug war cannot be won by those tactics without undermining the human liberty and individual freedom that you and I cherish.

Yet, Bennett basically thinks conservatives like Friedman and Buckley are intellectually dishonest. “They’ve made up their minds,” he said to his Harvard audience, “and they don’t want to be bothered with further information or analysis, further discussion or debate. …” In other words, legalizers are pigheaded. But if anyone is suffering from sow-pate syndrome it’s Bennett and conservatives who share his attitude about drugs. Their idea of continuing the “debate,” is asking repeatedly, “Don’t you agree with us yet?”

Fact is, they don’t care at all about debate. And despite protestations to the contrary, they don’t care about the Constitution, either. If they did, they wouldn’t so casually dismiss charges of drug-war abuse and wouldn’t rankle Bush for his reluctance to charge full-speed ahead. Instead, they are exposed as the people who “don’t want to be bothered with further information or analysis, further discussion or debate.”

When a loyal right winger breaks ranks and begins to cast aspersions on the dope war — such as Paul Craig Roberts recently has with his 2000 book, “The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice” — they just ignore him. Conservative media outlets have been fairly hush-hush about Roberts’ book. Better to turn the other direction when one of your own points the accusatory finger.

It figures. The enthusiasts want their war on drugs, and don’t bother them with facts and figures about damage inflicted to the Constitution.

Besides, if they keep it up, there won’t be much of one left to defend, anyway.


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