A forthcoming unauthorized biography about former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is generating news around the country. The two items getting the most ink so far are the claims that Palin had a fling with NBA star Glen Rice while she was a sports reporter in Alaska, and that Sarah Palin used cocaine while snowmobiling with friends.
Palin has previously admitted to using marijuana, making her part of an ever growing group of elected officials, from both the GOP and the Dems, who have used illicit drugs or have substance abuse issues in their immediate families.
President Obama broke new ground when he admitted to not only marijuana use, but to experimenting with cocaine when was a young man. John McCain and his family know about substance abuse, with his wife Cindy's well-known addiction to prescription pain pills. George Bush dodged questions about his cocaine and marijuana use and would only admit to "youthful indiscretions." Al Gore was a known marijuana smoker. President Clinton famously addressed the issue with the bizarre I-smoked-it-but-didn't-inhale line. Jeb Bush's daughter Noelle was busted with Xanax and crack. I could go on and on with those who've admitted to or have been outted for illicit drug use: Newt Gingrich, yes. Mayor Bloomberg, check.
None of this should be surprising. I would never expect our elected officials to go through life without trying drugs. We are a society swimming in drugs: Marijuana, Prozac, Ritalin, Cocaine, Cigarettes, Alcohol, Viagra. Virtually 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 with thousands of Oxycontin pills, 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, more than 50,000 New Yorkers were arrested and jailed on low-level marijuana possession charges -- that far exceeds the city's total marijuana arrests from 1981-1995!
The scapegoating and hypocrisy from our elected officials is as strong today as ever. Right now there is legislation popping up around the country to drug test people who receive welfare benefits. I wonder how comfortable these elected officials and their staff would be if they had to piss in a cup.
I have mixed feelings when I hear about Palin and other politicians' drug use. The revelations are beneficial by helping shatter the myth that if you try drugs you are going to be an unproductive person who ruins your life. But the hypocrisy is infuriating. Our prisons are exploding with more than 500,000 people behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses -- and these politicians are perpetuating the policies that created this catastrophe.
It is time for voters to punish elected officials - not for past drug use, but for supporting draconian laws that lock up so many of our brothers and sisters for doing what so many of our elected officials do themselves.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)