June 7th, 2016
After a surprisingly long struggle, Hillary Clinton has essentially clinched the Democratic nomination, according to the AP, which reported last night that she had enough superdelegates take her over the top. Further delegates gained from today’s primaries in California, New Jersey and four other states are expected give her a cushion. Bernie Sanders, her tenacious opponent, may choose to make the party’s convention next month “messy,” but barring exceptional and unprecedented events, Clinton will be the nominee.
Despite widespread optimism for a better national outlook on drugs, justified by a number of developments in recent years, we face a glum reality as we enter general election season: Our only alternative to the nightmare of Donald Trump’s drug policy is depressingly mediocre. So, drug policy reformers, here’s the bad news—no matter who gets elected (not counting Gary Johnson), we’re headed backwards the next four-to-eight years!
For Hillary Clinton is a cynical exploiter of drug scares at worst, hopelessly out of touch with reality at best.
This most recently made headlines when, on Nancy Reagan’s death, Hillary pointedly praised Ms. Reagan’s work on AIDS. Where did that come from? The Reagan administration was shockingly negligent in addressing the AIDS epidemic, delaying for years any public health campaign to fight the disease and as a result causing tens of thousands of deaths.
AIDS activist Larry Kramer responded: “The gay population is up in arms over this. I don’t think that she realizes that this is a big issue for us, what she has said in her stupidity.”
In Slate, Michelle Goldberg noted of Hillary’s strange and undeserved encomium for NancyReagan: “Her words suggest that, on some deep level, she really is out of touch with progressive concerns.”
Reactions like these caused Hillary to apologize for her crazy-talk. Well, for that example of it. For her problem goes much deeper.
Let’s consider the choices of her husband’s administration (one in which Hillary Clinton had more say than any First Lady before or since). Bill selected as his drug czar the mad general Barry McCaffrey. Here I profiled how wrong McCaffrey was in every regard: He was anti-medical marijuana and pro-DARE. Worst of all, McCaffrey and the Clintons contributed to tens of thousands of AIDS deaths among IV drug users—massively exacerbating the damage caused by the Reagans—by opposing needle exchanges.
Do you think Hillary is about to apologize for that? Do you think that she even understands her and Bill’s role in these deaths?
We’re not done yet. What about Bill’s policy that excluded drug felons—even those convicted of simple marijuana possession—from receiving welfare, food stamps or public housing, and his role in the mass incarceration of black Americans, described by Michelle Alexander and others as “the New Jim Crow”? Such policies came backed by the racially charged “super predator” theory—supported by both Bill and Hillary—that certain combinations of drugs and gangs turned “urban” youth into criminal monsters.
Confronted with this charge recently and asked to apologize, Hillary Clinton claimed, “Nobody’s ever asked me before.”
Yes, when it comes to drugs, Hillary is almost as obtuse as her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. Of course, those of us to whom better drug policies are important will choose the lesser of two evils. In 2015, for example, a mere 19 years after California legalized medical marijuana, Hillary moved just a smidgeon, saying that we should reclassify marijuana into a less dangerous category. Hallelujah!
But our aversion to Trumpageddon shouldn’t prevent us from calling mediocrity and inadequacy what it is. In addition to being decades behind the times on needle exchange, Hillary still opposes the legalization of adult-use marijuana—unlike a clear majority of Americans.
And how about other drugs? She favors continued prohibition, and proposed a large-scale addiction plan last September that makes fashionable noises about treatment-over-incarceration—
Cynicism or ignorance? It’s fascinating to consider her stance on marijuana and other drugs in light of her husband.
Bill Clinton, of course, was dishonest enough about marijuana to claim that he used it—one time—but “did not inhale.”
(In contrast, the most recently eliminated presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, has admitted to using drugs, but seems to have enjoyed it less than any of our last three presidents. Why do I believe him? Maybe because he has endorsed decriminalizing and legalizing drug use.)
Bill Clinton admitted to having sex with Gennifer Flowers—again, just once—in his deposition in the suit Paula Jones brought against him in 1998, while he was President (at a time when he was still denying that he had sex with Monica Lewinsky).
This is what Gennifer Flowers swore in a deposition in the same case (and no one has charged her with perjury):
“I met Bill Clinton in 1977 while I was working as a news reporter in Little Rock, Arkansas. Shortly after we met, we began a sexual relationship that lasted for 12 years. In the late 1970s I moved away from Little Rock. . . . Bill Clinton and I maintained our relationship during this time.”
But I don’t care who Bill Clinton has sex with. Here’s what I want to talk about: Gennifer Flowers’s description in her book, Passion and Betrayal, of Bill’s drug use.
“Just about anything Bill did was okay with me. I wasn’t about to criticize him for fear of creating distance between us. So when he casually put his hand in his pants pocket and pulled out a joint one night, I was startled but kept silent. I thought how foolish it was of him to carry marijuana around, but it was typical of his bulletproof attitude. He felt comfortable enough to continue smoking marijuana occasionally when he was with me. I didn’t object. By the way, he most certainly did inhale.
I never saw him use cocaine, but he talked about it. He complained about how cocaine really had a bad effect on him. It didn’t stop him from using it, though. He told me about a party he had been to, and said, ‘I got so fucked up on cocaine at that party.’ He said it made his scalp itch, and he felt conspicuous because he was talking with people who were not aware drugs were at the party, and all he wanted to do was scratch his head.”
Our Really Big Secret
People can, of course, lead successful lives while taking drugs, up to and including becoming President of the United States. That’s why we need to change our entire outlook on drugs. Our current President used drugs, although he quit (the illegal ones) at a much earlier age.
And if you count the Republican in between Bill Clinton and Obama for his oft-reported former cocaine use, then either Hillary Clinton or Trump (assuming we believe them) will be the first President in the last quarter-century not to have used illegal drugs!
I wonder, if Gennifer Flowers’ stories about Bill’s drug use are true, does Hillary think her husband should have been imprisoned?
There is a movement in the US, depicted in the film The Anonymous People, that calls on millions of secret “addicts” who are unwilling to admit to their recovery from addiction to come out of the closet.
Actually, our really big secret in America is the many more tens of millions of people who have used drugs without harm—and may actually have enjoyed them—some of whom go on to become President.
Too bad they can’t tell the truth, so that everyone will learn how most people manage their use of drugs, as I described in The Influence. Not only are they forbidden from uttering the words, “I have used (or use) drugs,” but those closest to them, powerful people who espouse the most conservative drug policies, cannot acknowledge this truth. Witness outgoing Vice President Joe Biden and son Hunter, who was a cocaine user (and may, for all we know, still be).
Hillary Clinton, in this regard, is a relic of an era we should already have left behind. What a shame she’s actually our better option for November.
Stanton Peele is a columnist for The Influence. His latest book, with Ilse Thompson, is Recover!: An Empowering Program to Help You Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life. He has been at the cutting-edge of addiction theory and practice since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has since written numerous other books and developed the online Life Process Program. His website is Peele.net. Dr. Peele has won career achievement awards from the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies and the Drug Policy Alliance. He is currently working on his memoir. You can follow him on Twitter: @speele5.