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The GOP Should Look in the Mirror When Talking About Obama's Drug Use

04/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Tony Newman Director of Media Relations, Drug Policy Alliance

Giddy Republican leaders and conservatives of all stripes were fired up yesterday when they gathered at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington.

All of their heavy hitters were there, from former/future Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney to Scott Brown, recently elected senator from Massachusetts.

One speech that is being quoted in newspapers and on TV screens around the country is from author Jason Mattera. The "zinger" from Mattera likened the CPAC conference to Woodstock -- "except that unlike the last gathering, our woman are beautiful, we speak in complete sentences and our notion of freedom doesn't consist of cocaine, which is certainly one thing that separates us from Barak Obama."

While the whole quote is offensive, I want to hold up a mirror to Mattera and the GOP on the issue of drug use. Surely many in the crowd who were chuckling and cheering remember that President Bush -- "the straight shooter" -- was never able to answer simple questions about his cocaine use. For years his answer was that he made "youthful indiscretions."

Let's also remember that President Obama's GOP challenger, John McCain, and his family, know about substance abuse on a very personal level. Cindy McCain had a well-known addiction to prescription pain pills. She was so hooked that she illegally used her charity to obtain the drugs. She would have physicians write prescriptions and then filled them with names of her staff.

And how about Rush Limbaugh, one of the most prominent conservative voices? Anyone remember how he would send his maid out to score him his Oxycontin? I could go on and on. Has Sarah Palin ever used an illegal drug? Yes. Newt Gingrich? Yes.

I would never expect our elected officials to go through life without trying drugs. We are a society swimming in drugs: Marijuana, Prozac, Ritalin, Cigarettes, Alcohol, Viagra. Almost every American uses drugs both for pleasure and to soothe pain -- and more than half of American adults have used an illegal drug.

Past or current drug use should not be worthy of ridicule -- but hypocrisy should be. Rush Limbaugh once scoffed at the idea that African Americans are disproportionately arrested on drug charges, and suggested that the solution should be to arrest more white people. Yet when he was busted for drugs, he changed his tune in a heartbeat.

And how about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg? When asked if he had smoked marijuana he said yes, and even added that he enjoyed it. Yet under Mayor Bloomberg, New York has the shameful distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world. Last year 40,000 New Yorkers were arrested and jailed on low-level pot possession charges. More people have been arrested on marijuana possession charges under Mayor Bloomberg than under any elected official in New York history!

It is in this context that President Obama's honesty on drug use was so refreshing, especially considering the lack of candor from his Democratic White House predecessor, Bill "I didn't inhale" Clinton. Obama openly admitted to smoking marijuana and trying cocaine as a young man. Obama has also been open about his current struggles to give up cigarettes. His candidness about his past and current experiences with substance use and dependence set a new standard for honesty. And even more important was the response from voters who never let it become an issue and voted for him to be their President.

Drug war propaganda demonizes and dehumanizes people who use drugs. Once the silent majority of people who use drugs speak out, the stereotypes that drive the war on drugs will be impossible to sustain. I hope and believe that one day soon an elected officials' support of inhumane and racist drug laws will cost more votes than simply admitting to having tried a certain drug.

Tony Newman is director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)

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