A Heartbreaking Presidency Of Staggering Hypocrisy

by Eli Beckerman

February 17, 2003

"The surest way to bust this economy is to increase the role and the size of the federal government."
--Presidential Candidate, George W. Bush, 2000 (Presidential debate, Boston, MA, October 3, 2000)

George W. Bush's Presidency has been tragic in many respects. It began with deep failures in, and blatant manipulations of, our supposed democracy -- all before George was ever anointed king. Upon taking office, George II made grandiose claims that he was a uniter, not a divider. Not only has Dubya effectively divided this nation, but he has divided the world. The terrorist attacks of 2001 led to an international embrace of America that has since been thrashed. But even before 2001, Bush's divisive politics enraged many Gore voters, Nader voters, and non-voters. Bush's arrogance before 9/11 was remarkably harmful to the perception of the American government abroad, but it is his hypocrisy that is finally hurting him at home. The American people -- Republicans too -- are beginning to decouple his claims from his actions. Patriotic Americans are recognizing that blind faith in Bush as a leader is itself a sin. Oversimplifying anti-war protesters as anti-Americans is a misdeed punishable by god-awful leadership.

Ironically enough, Bush's mind-blowing hypocrisy may be best examined through his policies and efforts to bolster the failed War on Drugs. Through this lens, his overarching attempts to enact hypocritical and dangerous policies across the board can be better understood. Ultimately, Bush's compassionate, Christian image is a lie, and his guiding light is not a moral one, but a pragmatic one.

If Bush were as concerned about the role and size of the federal government as he led people to believe, then he would surely be scaling back the $19.2 billion in recommended funding for the National Drug Control Strategy this year. Included in this budget is our continued "assistance to our partners in the Andean region," or as some see it, our tax dollars " paying to escalate a civil war, displace hundreds of thousands of civilians, and strengthen a military with a horrible human rights record (and clear ties to paramilitaries with an even worse human rights record)." It should be no surprise that United States corporations are profiting from this escalated Drug War, including Monsanto, Coca-Cola, and Occidental Petroleum.

On the domestic front, surely Bush would reduce the frightening trends in incarceration for non-violent drug offenses. In the last three years, nearly 2 million people were arrested for marijuana possession. And he couldn't possibly condone the waste of $4 million on anti-drug ads during this year's Super Bowl. Waste, I say, because the ads are fallacious, ineffective, and of course, hypocritical. Last year, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), spent about $3.4 million to debut its "drugs support terrorism" ads to Super Bowl viewers. Indeed, the ONDCP has spent around $2 billion over 5 years on advertising alone.

Admittedly, the "parents are the anti-drug" message strikes home with me, and I would not be objecting loudly if those were the only ads pushed by Bush's Drug Czar John Walters. Instead, Bush and Walters see it fit to spend big government dollars on exaggerated claims that marijuana is terribly destructive and using drugs supports terrorism and other "terrible things." Meanwhile, the Detroit Project's ads firing back that gas-guzzling SUVs support terrorism are rejected from numerous television stations, and football fans are inundated with ads for beer, SUVs, and Hummers. The only way this could be any more hypocritical would be to promote drinking and SUV driving in the same ad!

This ad campaign is heavily based on contorted logic such as the following from a print ad: "Drug money funds terrible things: intimidation, bribery, torture, and murder. And drug money comes from drug buyers. So if people stopped buying drugs, there wouldn't be a drug market. No drug market, no drug dealers. No drug dealers, no drug violence, corruption and misery. It may not be what you want to hear. But that doesn't make it any less true." Doesn't drug prohibition lead to drug money in the first place? Why don't they start their chain of consequences there? The federal government's moral basis for the drug war is severely eroded by the quirkiness of its policies, which leave alcohol a national pastime, and boost the growing of poppy into a handsomely rewarded endeavor.

The ONDCP campaign has even resorted to defending its own nonsense within its costly ads: "If you don't want something to be true, does that make it propaganda?" Obviously not. But lies, distortions, and relentless suffocation of scientific research that contradicts your side do indeed amount to propaganda. And that's just what the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has set out to prove with its recently launched " Truth Campaign." Responding specifically to an "open letter to America's prosecutors" from the Deputy Director of the ONDCP, NORML offers a point-by-point rebuttal, and makes a strong case that the White House is "flat-out lying to the American public."

Surely the Drug Czar and the ONDCP have been exaggerating the potential dangers of marijuana for longer than King George has been around, but what makes some of the most recent Drug War activity so alienating is that it flies in the face of everything Bush has ever claimed to be about. In October of 2001, the Bush Administration used a May 2001 Supreme Court ruling to begin an aggressive crackdown on the distribution of medical marijuana in California. Susan Dryden, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said at the time "that the department did not differentiate between medical marijuana and other illegal drugs." It is important to keep in mind two facts:

i) The domestic anthrax attacks took their first victim on October 5, 2001.
ii) California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996 -- making legal the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Bush, famous for championing states' rights, apparently does not believe in uniform application of this virtue of self-determination. The following is a checklist of Bush's praises for states' rights, extracted from a wonderful archive of political statements from countless candidates and officeholders, which can be found at www.issues2002.org:

* On 'partial-birth abortion': "States should have the right to enact reasonable laws and restrictions particularly to end the inhumane practice of ending a life that otherwise could live." (June 2000)

* On the confederate flag: "I believe the people of South Carolina can figure out what to do with this flag issue. I don't believe it's the role of someone from outside SC to come into this state and tell the people of SC what to do [about] the flag." (Jan. 2000)

* On gay marriage: "It's none of my business what somebody's [orientation is]. Now, when somebody makes it my business, like on gay marriage, I'm going to stand up and say I don't support gay marriage. I support marriage between men and women... [but] the state can do what they want to do. Don't try to trap me in this state's issue." (Feb. 2000)

* On evolution and creationism, Bush's spokeswoman: "He believes it is a question for states and local school boards to decide but believes both ought to be taught." (Aug. 1999)

* On federal impediments to states' clean energy: "I would remove federal impediments, such as unclear jurisdiction over who is responsible for grid reliability, to help states be able to deregulate their electric industries effectively." (Sep. 2000)

* On school vouchers: "I've always believed that a voucher plan is up to the states." (Jan. 2001)

The irony -- no, the hypocrisy, comes in when you consider how Bush's legal team won Bush v. Gore -- stopping the state of Florida from determining its own electoral votes. Bush, then, is a big fan of state's rights when it's in his favor. But when state's rights go against him, states better watch out!

Indeed, the Drug Enforcement Agency under Bush had no sympathy for Valerie and Michael Corral, owners of a medical marijuana farm -- legal under California law and operated with full consent of the City of Santa Cruz, but illegal under Federal law. The Corrals were arrested and taken into custody in San Jose on federal charges of intent to distribute marijuana, but later released. Valerie founded the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in the 1990s with her husband after her own bout with epilepsy led her down the road of medical marijuana. So outraged that the DEA raided this collective without even warning local authorities, the Santa Cruz City Council, along with the Mayor, participated in a well-publicized pot giveaway on the steps of City Hall. And it was not long before the Corrals were deputized by the City Council -- giving them "authority to cultivate, distribute and possess medical marijuana."

More recently, Ed Rosenthal, who had been deputized by the City of Oakland to grow marijuana for patients under the city's medical marijuana program, was convicted for marijuana cultivation. The only problem was that his jury was not made aware of Prop. 215, or even the fact that he was growing the cannabis for medical marijuana patients. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer ruled that since federal marijuana cultivation laws gave no exemptions for medical marijuana, it was not an allowable defense. Most of the jurors who voted to convict Rosenthal without full knowledge of his marijuana cultivation practices were so outraged when they found out the truth that they staged a press conference on February 4 to condemn their own decision. Jury foreman Charles Sackett even gestured that if his speaking up on behalf of Rosenthal was in contempt of court, he would be willing to share a cell. It just so happens that the Corrals and Rosenthal are among the most outspoken advocates of medical marijuana in the United States. Could the Bush Administration be selectively enforcing federal law to punish political dissent?

Another turn toward Bush's big-brother style is his administration's support of the random drug testing of students. In June 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Board of Ed. of Pottawatomie County v. Earls that the invasion of students' privacy was not significant, and was outweighed by concerns for protecting their safety and health. While this ruling pertains to students who subject themselves to more stringent regulations because they are voluntarily seeking to participate in extracurricular activities, a Bush Administration lawyer went even further, saying in oral arguments that universal testing would be constitutional. As if Bush's assaults on civil liberties were not drastic enough under the USA Patriot Act, the ONDCP and the Bush Administration would also like to play off of parents' fears for their children's well-being and subject them to strict behavioral mandates at the expense of their right to privacy, not to mention pursuit of happiness.

The lies and exaggerations exposed in the NORML Truth Campaign are clear indicators that they want to enlist parents against their children. While parents may indeed be the best "anti-drug," their means of educating their kids properly are being corrupted by an overzealous federal agency. Without the truth, there simply is no effective way of steering kids away from harmful drugs. A more likely consequence of this dishonest tack is the very creation of the 'gate' in the famed "gateway effect." Marijuana's gateway impact can be more rigorously credited to the societal hurdles, meant to protect our kids, than it can to any physical effects of the narcotic. In fact, early tobacco and alcohol use topped the factors associated with later illicit drug use and dependence.

As long as our national policies towards drugs have a dishonest foundation, and are steeped in this hypocrisy, we will oversimplify the problems and effectively overlook any workable "solutions." Our dependence on legal drugs underscores the dissonance between our drug policies and reality. It is quite astounding how dependent our society is on drugs, and simultaneously how much we loathe illegal narcotics. Starbucks, Phillip Morris, Anheuser Busch, and Eli Lilly do just fine in our world. You can bet that if Eli Lilly were ever able to patent medical marijuana, there would be an amazing shift in attitude in Congress and the White House.

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Eli Beckerman is a Green Party activist.

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Published February 17, 2003
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