SENATE QUESTIONS FOR THE DRUG CZAR
BY Robert S. Weiner (former Director of Public Affairs/Chief of Press
Relations, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, May 1995-July
currently President, Robert Weiner Associates Public Affairs and Issue Strategies), October 10, 2001
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings, led by Patrick Leahy, Joe Biden, and Orrin Hatch, on President Bush’s Drug Czar nominee, John Walters. A great deal has been made lately about supposed failures in our drug policy – probably because the movie Traffic raised significant issues and also because four-star General Barry McCaffrey, the last “Drug Czar” (National Drug Policy Director) had a great deal of charisma and brought attention to the problem – making a good target for opponents of the national strategy he authored. But is John Walters, former deputy to then-Drug Czar Bill Bennett under Bush I, the right person with the right answers?
Since the horrific events of September 11 -- when today’s hearing was first scheduled to occur -- concerns about national security have become paramount. However, the necessary contribution to national security through drug policy will be best achieved through a comprehensive approach and not a disproportionately one dimensional direction. The Senate must ask about what is on the record – statements
Mr. Walters has made in writing and verbally over the last ten years – not just the statement made at the Rose Garden nomination ceremony this May 10, as criticism was already mounting and he had to say the right things, as he will of course have to do at the hearing as well. Certainly, in the Rose Garden, with onlookers including Columbia University’s Substance Abuse Center Director Joe Califano and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America’s Arthur Dean, Walters stated, “We will especially protect our children from drug use. We will help the addicted find effective treatment and remain in recovery.” This was clear, correct and in just the right tone.
However, what the Senate has to do is look beyond the politically correct event-statements and ask Walters about his years of controversial utterances and writings when he was trying to change drug policy to his liking – which he would have ample time to do in his potential new office. Here are some examples of Walters’ statements – many before the very Judiciary Committee in which Walters must be confirmed:
On addiction as a disease: “The health people say ‘no stigma.’ I’m for stigma” (quoted in book Up in Smoke, 1996, by Dan Baum). Also: “The therapy-only lobby is alive and well and more dogmatic than ever” (article by Walters in The Weekly Standard, March 5, 2001). He has also criticized the past Administration for the “ineffectual policy” of a “‘therapeutic state’ in which government serves as the agent of personal rehabilitation” (Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, July 1996). If he really does want to reduce the “treatment gap” (currently two million of the estimated five million addicts receive treatment), will he do battle inside his own Administration to expedite the supposed $1.6 billion increase over five years for treatment and prevention – which, it turns out, is mostly in the “out-years” and could occur after Bush’s term is over, raising the question of whether the funding is real by leaving the actual decision on the biggest increases to the next administration?
Would Walters dismantle the unique role of ONDCP
to manage critical drug policy coordinating programs – over 90% of ONDCP’s
own $500 million budget by the way -- and send them to agencies with much
more muddled agendas? On the programs that the White House Drug Policy
Office actually runs, including the key national anti-drug media campaign
now reaching 90% of teens and their parents seven times a week, drug free
community coalitions (307 now assisted nationwide), high intensity drug
trafficking areas (a catalyst for law enforcement coordination universally
praised by police in the 30 designated regions), and counter-drug technology
(providing a dozen high-tech drug brain scanners in major national health
institutions and providing tools to 2500 local police forces):
“Those grant making authorities ought to be turned back over – even the ones that currently exist, to the most appropriate agency.” (Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee, July 23, 1997).
Directly on the media ad campaign: “Why is a glitzy public service campaign the best way to put additional incremental resources?” (Senate Judiciary Committee, July 23, 1997), and “This is a lazy person’s way of trying to appear they’re doing something” (Dallas Morning News, June 26, 1997). The facts that the media campaign is less than 1% of the anti-drug budget, is a paid plus matched ad prime time strategy, not a PSA campaign played at 4 AM, and the reality that advertising works in America and not a whole lot of companies or causes or advertising experts would understand such unfounded comments, may be of little merit if someone just wants to make a point regardless of the merits. In written testimony before the Senate in 1994, Walters contradicted this position in calling for “a nationwide advertising campaign” but said it must be one “highlighting the federal mandatory minimum sentences” (Senate Judiciary Committee, Oct. 5, 1994). Would we stop the ads showing children the dangers of drugs and informing parents of the importance of regular conversations with their kids – despite the scientific basis of those messages and a 23% drop in drug use by 12-13 year olds last year, demonstrating success in the prime target group?
On the 100:1 disparity between the amount of crack
cocaine versus powder for similar penalties: “The political correctness
here is we’re arresting too many black people… They know what the reality
is here, but they don’t have a voice. That’s what General McCaffrey
and his colleagues are supposed to provide. And instead, he’s worried
that we’re doing too much punishment… I say he doesn’t get it. ”
(Senate Judiciary Committee, July 23, 1997). Also:
“Neither is it true that the prison population is disproportionately made up of young black men” (his article in The weekly Standard, March 5, 2001). The facts are that African Americans are 15% of the current drug using population, 33% of drug trafficking defendants, 48% of those imprisoned in local jail for drug offenses, 54% of federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses, and 60% of state-level prisoners serving time for drug offenses. If that is not a racial disparity in punishment, I do not know what is.
On interdiction: “We have the capacity in the United States military… That’s not incorporated into the current strategy. It seems to me redundant to hire tens of thousands of Border Patrolmen or Customs agents, although we need Customs agents and Border Patrolmen, if we have the resources. It’s a matter of priority.” (Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 4, 1996). Also: “The Defense Department …ought to be made responsible for the flow of cocaine into the United States and managing it…they are just too big to have somebody else tell them what to do” (Senate Judiciary testimony, Oct. 5, 1994). Apparently Mr. Walters cares not for the Posse Comitatus law reflecting the philosophy that in America, domestic law enforcement, not the military, protects us, and that the role of the military can only be in support. In 1994 he also slammed the Coast Guard, which incidentally over the past year has produced all-time record seizures: “You are not going to haul the commandant of the Coast Guard up here and say he is accountable because it is just not believable” (Judiciary testimony, Oct. 5, 1994).
On supposed Clinton White House staff drug use: “the Secret Service found recent extensive drug use to the point where they didn’t want to issue them regular passage to the complex.” (Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 4, 1996). Evidence please, especially for Walters’ use of the words “extensive” and “them”? Why would Walters, in a hearing, blanket tar an entire dedicated group with no or at best anecdotal information? Moreover, as we remember, the press did not demand the answer to the never-answered question of whether President Bush could himself say “never” to having used illegal drugs.
Finally, on the overall national effort: “This is a domestic strategy for Vietnam, endlessly throwing resources, endlessly throwing people’s efforts, endlessly throwing the lives of people as they’re standing there, devoting them to treatment and prevention and foreign efforts on our country’s behalf, and we’re going to lose them because this can’t possibly win, and we know it, if you take a serious look at it” (Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 4, 1996).
Huh? Like the fictional but interpreted-as-fact
movie Traffic, he’s just branded the entire comprehensive strategy
no matter what Administration a failure.
What an enormous disservice to community coalitions, law enforcement, media, coaches, religious leaders, foreign efforts, people in our own government who have dedicated themselves to the effort, and above all parents. All these groups have worked hard, and succeeded, to: reduce drug use by half in the last twenty years and stabilize that lower amount; reduce cocaine and crack use by two-thirds which has helped lead to the lowest crime rates on record; reduce teen drug use by 34% in the last three years (including as mentioned a 23% drop in use by 12-13 year-olds last year alone) reversing a prior upward bubble; and yes, even in foreign source efforts, reduce cocaine manufacture by 20% since 1992-1993, according to the UN’s most recent report, while international heroin production also declined, by 15% since 1994.
The UN’s Drug Chief, Pino Arlacchi, stated in February this year, “We must end the psychology of despair that has gripped the minds of a generation and would have us believe that nothing can be done to roll back, let alone stop, the consumption of drugs.” Hopefully Walters, even if placed in office, will not continue to brand all who came before him in the past eight years as useless.
The Senate must determine whether Walters can explain his statements without a simplistic defense of “They were out of context” when the truth is that he was trying to establish a context with these very statements. Also, “These are old and here is my new position” will not cut it either, when he made some of the statements as late as March of this year, right before he learned of his nomination. At best, he can say, “I’ll follow the President’s policies” – except the reality is that he is the one who is supposed to set them.
Now the Senate must ask: Will John Walters rise over the controversial record of his own rhetoric, will he be the spokesman the law requires him to be on behalf of national drug policy, will he fight for his “new” positions, and will he take on other Cabinet officers to assert his positions – or will he be what his background indicates, a supportive staff member who simply moves the system further toward the right wing ideology of emphasis on enforcement?
Of course, the Senate must also ask if Walters is the right person to confront the challenges facing all drug policy – whether he has the stature – to make and win a case before the Cabinet and the Congress for action (and winning arguments over very clever pro-drug opponents). Some of the controversial pending issues he must address include the connections between drug trafficking funds and terrorism, given that Afghanistan has long been the number one opium supplier to the world and the Taliban has nurtured an infrastructure quadrupling heroin production the last ten years; 90% of US cocaine and increasing amounts of heroin now coming from Colombia; half of drugs entering the U.S. transiting through Mexico; the burgeoning legalization and normalization and medicalization movements which would expand availability and use of drugs; the treatment gap; the increase in designer drugs like ecstasy; the attacks by legalizers on the media campaign; the approach of the Salt Lake Olympics while more and more young people emulate top professional and amateur athletes by using steroids and supplements but may well be destroying their bodies in the long term, and more. The new Drug Czar must also now work in the context of the new high-visibility Homeland Security Office and its Director, Governor Ridge. The Senate must decide whether this particular nominee for National Drug Policy Director, who is not the famous educator nor the governor nor the big city police chief nor the war hero who became previous national drug policy directors, has the major stature to be listened to by the Cabinet, the Congress, and the American people – a key requisite for the job.
The Senate must ask – and decide.
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