Pubdate: Sun, 26 Sep 1999
Source: Star-Ledger (NJ)
Copyright: 1999 Newark Morning Ledger Co.
Contact:  1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, N.J., 07102-1200
Author: Paul Mulshine, Star-Ledger columnist


Since it seems to be the fashion for us baby boomers to confess whether we
used any dangerous drugs in our younger years, I am prepared to make that
confession. But first let me deal with the recent revelations concerning
the past drug use of Bill Bradley and George W. Bush.

On TV last Sunday, Bill confessed to Sam and Cokie that he smoked pot in
his youth. As for the youth of George W. Bush, it may or not have been
enlivened by cocaine. He's not saying.

This issue is intriguing not for what it may reveal about the nature of
baby boomers but for what it may reveal about the nature of hypocrisy in
American politics: It is alive and well.

The hypocrisy is obvious when you compare the current war on drugs to
Prohibition. Back then, when a hard-drinking congressman would take the
floor to inveigh against liquor, the inconsistency was obvious to all. But
at least that congressman was taking an action that put at risk his ready
access to his drug of choice.

This is not so with today's Baby-Boomer drug warriors. When you're the age
of Bradley or Bush - or me, for that matter - it's easy to call for the
government to halt the trade in drugs. We're too old to enjoy them anyway.

Take Bradley, for example. Perhaps he had a great time smoking weed with
the guys when he was a New York Knick.  But now? Two hits on a hookah might
cause him to lose the battle against sleep that he seems to be perpetually
fighting. Worse, he might have one of those marijuana-induced moments of
introspection. "Jeez, I just had an amazing insight," he would exclaim to
the guy who'd passed him the pipe. "I'm really boring."

As for Bush, a snootful of cocaine might cause him to start babbling
incoherently in broken sentences that have no apparent meaning.

Wait a minute, he does that already.

Okay, then. Maybe cocaine would give him a runny nose and insomnia.

The previous generation didn't have this problem. When Ronold Reagan
denounced drugs, he sounded sincere.  He seemed to truly believe that
America was just a few tokes away from going to heck in a handbasket. And
voters respected that.

But George W. isn't fooling anybody.  And as a voter largely sympathetic to
the Republican Party, I have to admit I find Bush's hypocrisy to be much
worse than Bradley's. Philosophically, the Democratic Party has no quarrel
with the war on drugs. It's a huge wasteful federal bureaucracy that
pretends to know more about citizens' best interests than they do. For a
Democrat, what's not to like?

The Republicans, on the other hand, are supposed to stand for
self-reliance, rugged individualism and the free market. Citizens should be
free to make choices and should be punished by government only when those
choices lead them to harm a fellow citizen.

Compare the drug issue to gun control. Only a tiny percentage of gun owners
use their weapons to shoot innocent people.  Nonetheless, many prominent
Democrats argue that all guns should be tightly controlled or even
prohibited regardless of the owner's behavior.

The republican position on gun control is that you don't deal with gun
crime by banning guns. You lock up the people who commit the crimes.

Applying the same logic to drug use, the solution is obvious. Don't lock up
all drug users, just those who steal to support their habits. If some
lawyer, businessman or computer wiz wants to smoke pot, what business is
that of the government's?

This is not a hypothetical example. I know people who fit those exact
descriptions. They like to smoke pot after work. I like to drink beer. If
you can somehow convince me that I am morally superior, I eagerly await
your letter of praise.

Where marijuana is concerned, the march of science has been particularly
unkind to the Republican position. In the ' 60s, pot seemed mysterious and
dangerous while tobacco was commonplace and seemed relatively harmless.
Since then, research has shown the opposite to be true. The main drawback
of marijuana turns out to be that it makes potheads develop an interest in
New Age music and books by Shirley MacLaine. Tobacco, on the other hand,
has been proven to be the most addictive and deadly drug in human history.

Yet the Republican Party remains staunchly pro-tobacco and anti-marijuana.
The GOP argument, boiled down, is that we should outlaw a drug that creates
pleasurable brain waves while encouraging a drug that stops brain waves

Steve Forbes, who has lately developed a talent for this sort of thing, has
reduced that argument to its absolute silliest. Forbes argues that it is
every American citizen's right to smoke cigarettes up to and beyond the
point of lung cancer. But once afflicted, that citizen should be forcefully
prevented from smoking pot to alleviate the pain of chemotherapy. Why? The
pot might hurt his lungs.

Which brings me it my own confession about my youthful experience with
dangerous psychoactive drugs. Here's my answer: No, I never inhaled.

A single cigarette.
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