By the time you read this, drug war politics might have forced George W Bush to abandon his run for the American presidency.
Bush's daddy was director of the CIA, and was America's president from 1988 to 1992. During the elder Bush's tenure as CIA chief, critics allege the spy agency engaged in cocaine smuggling to fund operations in Nicaragua and elsewhere. During his tenure as vice-president and president, thousands of mostly poor Americans were arrested and given mandatory minimum sentences for cocaine crimes.
Cocaine has become a problematic issue for George W Bush and his dad (the media nicknames for the younger Bush are "George W" and "W") because the younger Bush is rumored to have used cocaine and other illegal drugs as recently as ten years ago.
The ex-president's son has repeatedly admitted past substance abuse. Short on specifics, W said he'd had serious problems with booze. He has also made vague allusions to use of illegal drugs during his wild and crazy youth.
Drug use aside, his qualifications to be president of the United States are rather slim. George W is a one-term Texas governor whose previous professional experience consists of spending his dad's money, mismanaging companies and banks, benefiting from millions of dollars in reconstruction money spent rebuilding Kuwait after daddy Bush's Gulf war, and partying.
According to Dick Cowan, former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and a lifelong Texan, the young W was part of a hedonistic, upper-class Texas elite that "certainly knew how to party." Although Cowan said he never partied with Bush, he says he is familiar with the antics of rich Texas kids during the era in which W came of age.
"The debutante balls and rich-boy functions that Bush probably attended were well-known for their cocaine use, as well as other pleasures of the flesh," Cowan says wryly. "Given what I have heard about the Texas jet-set at the time, it would have been unusual if he hadn't used illegal drugs or drank to excess."
Until questions began dogging W in June, Cowan wondered why Bush's drug use was not an issue in the presidential campaign. Bush was early on designated as a front-runner: the man to beat. And initially, when reporters began asking Bush about his drug history, their questions indicated that they had bought into the idea that using illegal drugs is always bad.
Cowan had a different perspective.
"For those of us who are anti-prohibition, the problem is not that he may have used illegal drugs," Cowan explained. "You could even say that such activities indicate an adventurous streak in him. What I was waiting for is for the mainstream media to start questioning him on the hypocrisy inherent in the fact that he and his dad are staunch prohibitionists who advocate sending other people to jail for the same behavior that young Bush allegedly engaged in. That's the real story."
A Texas state law which George W signed in 1997 forces judges to give a mandatory minimum six months in jail to anyone convicted under a gram of cocaine. In the first year almost 3,000 people had been imprisoned for having this tiny amount. "Prison is rehabilitation" was one of his rallying cries as Governor, and the Texas prison population tripled during his administration.
Bush tried to dodge drug questions by making vague admissions of youthful indiscretions. These admissions were accompanied by the requisite apology: "I made mistakes, I'm sorry I made them, and I don't think other people should make them." In July, he began angrily insisting that reporters' questions were inappropriate prying, that he had not used illegal drugs for seven, ten, fifteen or twenty-five years. Yet this inconsistency on the time since use only added fuel to the media's curiosity.
Forgiving their own
Republican prohibitionists showed how forgiving they can be (when the druggie is one of their own), by stating that Bush's past drug use was irrelevant, private and of no consequence.
The Republicans especially, and politicians in general, have long talked out of both sides of their mouth on the drug issue. Former Speaker of the House, Republican Newt Gingrich, smoked pot in college and advocated medical marijuana in the 1980's. In the 1990's, however, he advocated executing marijuana smugglers.
Republican Senator Dan Burton, who also advocated the death penalty for marijuana traffickers, used political muscle to prevent his son, Danny Jr, from going to prison. The younger Burton was twice arrested for marijuana smuggling and/or cultivation; one arrest involved possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, which is supposed to trigger a mandatory minimum prison sentence.
Did Danny-boy do hard time? Of course not. Daddy arranged a sweetheart deal ? his son served a brief period of house arrest and paid a negligible fine.
If W survives his drug past and becomes the Republican nominee for president, he'll likely be facing Vice-President Al Gore, a tobacco farmer who admitted in 1988 that he and his wife Tipper frequently used marijuana during their college years. Gore also admitted to using marijuana while he was a soldier in Vietnam, and some of Gore's children have had legal problems with drug use. Now, Gore is a strict prohibitionist. His boss Bill Clinton "tried pot but didn't inhale" when he was a student at Oxford. This same Clinton has escalated the war on drugs; more people have been arrested and jailed on marijuana charges during his presidency than during any previous administration.
It's good that the debate about W's past is turning into a debate about the drug war. Maybe the debate will force America to reconsider its stupid war, or maybe America will elect a hard-line prohibitionist hypocrite as president.
Al Gore inhaled, while George W snorted and sipped. Can we convince them to lighten up on the rest of us who do the same?