A Democratic Drug War

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