A Democratic Drug War

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A
recent weekend night at an infamous local haunt. By 11 PM, the club
was packed with revelers; men in throwback NFL jerseys grinding
with lycra-clad women to the latest chart-topping hip hop music.

The
air was thick with the smell of blunts, the music with references
to high-ticket designer fashion. If an observer took seriously veteran
rapper Chuck D's 1988 assertion that "hip hop music is black
America's CNN," then he would assume that a markedly high proportion
of blacks drove Escalades or Hummers and had cash flow worthy of
an Arabian sheik.

In
the club, however, weren't just blacks; folks of all races were
running up bar tabs to a bass heavy soundtrack. A Sunday night in
Jacksonville, once a hotbed of racial segregation, and almost all
was well with the world. Except for upstairs, in the VIP area. For
the balance of the evening, a young white girl – slender, with unfortunate
buck teeth – had been milling around the room. Occasionally staggering.
She had approached this writer and hugged him, pulling herself close
to him and smiling vacantly.

In
the VIP area, she wasn't smiling anymore. She was catatonic. Passed
out on a chair, her skirt hiked halfway up her thighs, she didn't
look like she'd be hugging anyone for hours. All around her, her
posse stood, seemingly oblivious.

The
scene played out as they do. Passers-by would inquire as to her
condition. Is she OK? Does she need anything? Her boyfriend would
answer reassuringly, as if being passed out in the middle of a nightclub
where gunplay isn't unprecedented is a normal thing. As if it somehow
didn't reflect negatively on him that he couldn't make sure that
his woman kept herself in check, and conscious.

Just
decades ago, a man partying in public while his woman lay sprawled
out as if dosed would've been seen as rakish to the point of unconscionability.
But times have changed. In spite of all of the money, time, and
effort put into various types of indoctrination and enforcement
by the Washington government, it's clear that federal efforts to
regulate the human spirit have been a dismal failure if their goal
was actually to make our society better. The people discussed above
are emblematic of a generation incapable of self-regulation, of
a generation taught to embrace quick, external curatives for any
problem they might have.

They
might as well be declared dead. Casualties in a culture war, spiritually
vanquished by those forces that came to liberate them. In the interest
of saving the young, the excesses of Washington do-gooders arguably
have destroyed them. As is so often the case with Washington's "wars,"
this one is a war against the most vulnerable, least empowered Americans.
The Drug War, of course, largely an invention of the Democratic
Party; inane, criminal, failed, and causative of national moral
bankruptcy. The war on Drugs is corrosive to the core. And a threat
to the sovereignty of the United States.

The
spirit of this position, of course, is nothing new. Albert Einstein,
when commenting on the efficacy of alcohol prohibition in 1921,
got to the heart of a problem attendant with government's wars on
human desire and individual choice. ""The prestige of
government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition
law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government
and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.
It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this
country is closely connected with this."

And
how could it not be? If beef were outlawed, one would expect there
to be a brisk black-market trade in that flesh, with prices inflated
to reflect the artificial scarcity imposed on the market. It's absurd
to imagine that a government edict would somehow quell that desire;
rather, there are many for whom the illicitness would only increase
the desire for the contraband. Too many of the right people desired
alcohol for prohibition to work, of course, and so the policy was
rescinded. But Washington's interest in stamping out illicit consumption
was voracious, leading FDR to sign the Marijuana Tax Act into law
on August 3, 1937. This measure, making the herb illegal, became
national policy without an open debate in Congress. Another US war
launched without the honor of overt declaration, and this one by
a Democratic President that many Republicans laud as one of the
century's greatest.

The
rationale behind the law may have best been stated by Harry Anslinger,
the original drug czar. The long-serving US Bureau of Narcotics
Commissioner, in outlining the dangers of marijuana, said that it
"was taken by musicians. And I'm not speaking about good ones,
but the jazz type." And Harry wasn't talking about the Kenny
G's of the 1930s either.

It's
not such a large jump for us to proceed from the doughty Anslinger
to phenomena like Boston's Tip O' Neill pushing through legislation
in the wake of the death of Len Bias, or to incarceration rates
that approached two million by the end of the Clinton Presidency.
It's no accident that Democrats have used Republican "law and
order" politics all too often as cover for their assaults on
civil liberties.

There
are precious few think-tank studies linking the decline in personal
responsibility with the increase in federally-mandated compliance.
But there should be more, as the central issue of the current age
is the failure of the omnibus state. Even as left-liberals scheme
for universal health care, the budgets of Washington and all the
state capitals bear little but grim tidings. Recent reportage that
TSA functions at airports could be slashed for budgetary reasons
should be the proverbial canary in the coal mine, suggesting to
sober observers that police states are bad business for anyone but
the police.

And
even that statement requires qualification. California and Florida,
two leaders in aggressive law enforcement, both face unprecedented
and likely untenable budget problems that could be the political
death of men once shortlisted for the Presidency. And they are not
alone; the vast majority of states face what the professionals euphemistically
call "tough choices."

The
choices, of course, will be to cut non-essential social service
and educational functions. But why not use what appears to be an
impending financial collapse to reconsider the relationship government
has with its people? Aggressive policing clearly has a negative
effect on the ability of individuals to take responsibility for
their actions. The police/nanny state is untrue to the principles
on which our nation was founded.

To
have any hope of fixing the myriad institutional problems that afflict
America like an advanced case of rot, we must scale down the ubiquity
of law enforcement and trust people to control their own lives.
Otherwise, we are all doomed. Catatonics sprawled out on chairs,
divested of individual agency. A fate beneath Americans, though
it seems inevitable at this point.

June
13, 2003

Anthony
Gancarski [send him mail]
has written for CounterPunch
and other publications; Utne Reader dubbed his Internet work
“Best of the Web.” A writer for the local Folio Weekly, he lives
in Jacksonville, Florida.


     

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