I must have missed something. Conservatives who have been saying for years that the government in Washington can never win the war on poverty are now blaming insufficient government in Washington for losing the war on drugs.
When he resigned as drug czar, Bill Bennett was adamant that the problem could only be solved at the community level: "Give me stronger families, stronger churches and stronger schools, and I will give you back 90 percent of this problem." These institutions have just gotten weaker since 1990, so are we to conclude that the Clinton administration is responsible for less than 10 percent of the problem?
Bill Clinton has committed the sin of silence and the sin of winking at a serious social pathology. But to blame this country's drug problem on the White House is to allow partisan considerations to triumph over the truth. The fact that almost 40 percent of children will go to sleep tonight without a father has more to do with the dramatic increase in drug use among teen-agers than the fact that the president joked about inhaling on MTV.
Yet conservatives are choosing to minimize the impact of social disintegration, instead equating commitment to fighting drugs with taxpayer money spent and bureaucrats hired.
If this argument sounds familiar, that's because it is. It has been used for 30 years by Great Society advocates castigating all who questioned the value of big-government anti-poverty programs.
The day after his resignation, Bennett was blunt about the roots of the drug problem: "It is indeed a spiritual problem. ... For some people, it is a clumsy, inappropriate and false but nevertheless heartfelt search for meaning."
If it is a misguided search for meaning in our secular world, and if people are endowed with free will by their Creator, it is intellectually dishonest to expect the president of the United States to legislate the problem away by signing multibillion-dollar spending bills.
And what about one of the central pillars of the Republican revolution: the transfer of power to the states? "One thing I've learned in this job," Bennett said in 1990, "is you cannot substitute for local energy and local commitment."
As drug czar, Bennett became aware of the limitations of what he and the president could do from Washington. On the day he was sworn in, he announced a prodigious plan to fight drugs in the nation's capital city. It was a prodigious failure.
Yet now, he is on the talk-show circuit bemoaning the absence of massive government initiatives. On "Fox Sunday News," he said that being drug czar in a Dole administration "is the only job that would tempt me." Considering that he was confirmed by the Senate on March 10, 1989, and resigned on Nov. 8, 1990, one wonders why, instead of finishing the job then, he followed Sen. Aiken's advice regarding the Vietnam War: "Declare victory and withdraw."
One cringes now when reading the self-congratulatory statements by President Bush and his withdrawing drug czar about the imminent victory in the drug war. On the day of his resignation, Bennett predicted that drug use would be cut by half: "We will do that in five years rather than the 10 years we talked about a year ago," he whistled past the graveyard. It sounds eerily similar to Bob Dole's promise last week: "My goal will be to cut teen-age drug use in America by 50 percent in my first term in office."
Bennett has scolded the current drug czar, Gen. McCaffrey, for his discomfort with the term "war on drugs." In fact, it is a most unfortunate metaphor. As Bob Polito, who runs a faith-based drug-rehabilitation center in New York, put it, "It is not a war but a series of life or death skirmishes that are fought one individual at a time."
Law enforcement officials know that concentrating on the supply side of the war on drugs is hopeless when addicts are willing to risk everything, including their lives, to get their drug.
What Ralph Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, told the House Narcotics Committee in 1986 is even more pertinent 10 years later: "It is not a matter of a few holes in the dike that can be plugged by additional manpower. The dike is gone. We will hear people say, 'Well, the problem is Mexico; the problem is Bolivia; the problem is Afghanistan; it is Colombia.' The problem is in the hearts and minds of our citizens who desire this flight from reality, this escape."
To say that the president is the problem is as true as saying that Bolivia is the problem. The false casting of a major national issue is a missed opportunity to engage the country in its solution.
Bob Dole is running for president. What is Bennett's excuse?
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