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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

That Queasy Feeling

posted by on August 27 at 18:32 PM

Barack Obama just claimed the nomination. And Joe Biden, as his official running mate, is about to speak. But Obama selecting Biden was a punch to the gut. Like that sickening feeling you got as a high school freshman, walking up the steps to the big party—and you’re telling yourself, if I fuck this up, my dreams are shot. But if things go well, this could be an excellent four years.

I am anything but a single-issue voter, but I’m also a die-hard zealot against the drug war. Everything that could have gone wrong has been an unbridled catastrophe: Drug epidemics and cartel routes breeze across the continent, privacy laws are gutted for sport, kids try drugs younger and younger, our prisons are stuffed with young black men…

And it’s Joe Biden’s fault.

As former chairman for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden is the person most responsible for passing a package of laws in the mid-80s that we think of as today’s drug war. Biden presided over the mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines that required judges to sentence dealers’ girlfriends and small-time peddlers to decades-long terms in state and federal prisons, where thousands are rotting to this day.

He used hearings “to mislead his colleagues and the public… on drug policy where police, prosecutors and DEA officials got the opportunity [to speak] while opponents were kept out,” says Kevin Zeese, a former director of Common Sense for Drug Policy and a leading drug-law reformer in Washington, D.C. since the 1980s. “Pick a drug law you don’t like from the last 25 years and thank Senator Biden.”

It wasn’t just coincidence that these laws were passed while Biden was at the helm of the judiciary committee. He was the leading advocate for establishing the Office of National Drug Control Policy—the White House Drug Czar’s Office—an agency that to this day gives lip service to drug treatment programs but spends its millions on ads linking pot to terrorism. The ads actually increased drug-initiation rates among teenagers. He’s a conservative on most crime issues. And in recent years, Biden pushed the so-called RAVE Act, which criminalized everyone attending parties where drugs were found. Biden is the drug war embodied.

But, since this is Obama’s campaign, I’m trying to hope—hope that Biden can change.

“Our intentions were good, but much of our information was bad,” Biden said in February. He decried the very sentencing disparities he created between crack and cocaine, which is one of the reasons prisons are full of young black men. “Each of the myths upon which we based the sentencing disparity has since been dispelled or altered,” he said.

A change of heart, perhaps. And when it comes to the playing the old white guy card—a requisite in the run against McCain—Biden’s the king of hearts. Also, nice teeth. They must be fake. Anyway, I like to think that the folks who pushed the drug war in the 1970s and 1980s—Richard Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Joe Biden—believed that it may have worked. Clinton should have known better. But by every measure of efficacy, it’s failed.

Obama cannot alter drug laws on his own—he’s lived a youth of indiscretions. (Realistically, no politician can make any sweeping changes; it must be incremental.) But if anyone has the credibility at the federal level to say we were wrong, to push the Senate for sentencing reform, to back Barney Frank’s bill in the House to decriminalize pot—nobody is more more capable than Joe Biden. And if he does, this could be an excellent four years.

RSS icon Comments


Yes, yes, I know about the injustices and even the deaths and certainly the waste of money, drug war, blah, blah, blah.

But, seriously -- has anybody at The Stranger ever considered simply not doing drugs? I promise you'd be a lot less preoccupied with this issue then.

Posted by whatevernevermind | August 27, 2008 6:37 PM

Dammit, Phil Hartman would've been a perfect Biden.

Posted by squidoo | August 27, 2008 6:38 PM

With Obama in the White House we'll have one chance in Hell to change the drug policy. With McCain in charge we'll have no chance at all.

You can replace the word "drug" with any word you want and the statement will still be true.

Posted by elswinger | August 27, 2008 6:40 PM

oopsie, changed his mind, only a half a mill black dudes in jail for doing drugs while other folks get elected president after doing the same drugs in powder form.
If Biden's really changed his mind, why not let these folks out of jail?

The changes will come only when the media (half of whom do or did drugs) make the politicians (half of whom did or do drugs) fess up -- en masse -- and face their huge moral hypocrisy on this issue. You've got to shame the politicians who did drugs, yet do nothing about those rotting in jail for doing drugs.

Posted by PC | August 27, 2008 6:42 PM

Here's a summary of platform positions of the Green Party, Democrats and Republicans.

In no instance do I see an issue where people from Slog or its readers would, by and large, absolutely agree with the Green Party position, and abhor the Democrat Party position.

The whole sycophantic ranting about BHO is ridiculous because in no instance would he ever give you anything that you ever want!

Posted by GreenPeoplesRevolutions | August 27, 2008 6:49 PM

Drugs drugs drugs..... dominic. Wow. You aren't a single-issue voter? You post about drugs a lot. Anyway. Atleast he's admitted he messed up. That's a start. Now he can go about fixing it.

Posted by anthony | August 27, 2008 6:50 PM

Hey the I-fucked-up-on-the-drug-war line is working out great for Bob Barr... jump on board, Mr Biden!

Posted by jmr | August 27, 2008 6:55 PM

As long as TV stations refuse to allow a dialogue on legalizing marijuana and news papers write overblown pieces about how the War on Drugs is working, we'll never convince politicians to support a sane drug policy.

Posted by elswinger | August 27, 2008 7:16 PM

Tell me about it, Holden... Remember Tipper (and Al) Gore and the PMRC?

A whole host of Dems made their way through the 80s telling a bunch of other people what they could and couldn't think, do, smoke, fuck, etc...

Hopefully we'll live long enough to see them eat their words.

Posted by six shooter | August 27, 2008 7:28 PM

This is Rosa Clemente on the megaphone.

Read my lips, people:

Section H. Criminal Justice

"30. We call for an end to the "war on drugs." We support expanded drug counseling and treatment. "

Posted by Rosa Clemente | August 27, 2008 7:43 PM

Wow, really? How inane.

Posted by Jay | August 27, 2008 8:21 PM

Those dems who made their way through the 80s telling people what they could think, sing, smoke, etc. have moved on to telling people what they can buy, with whom they can trade, and what compensation package they are allowed to work for.

If you want government to have less control of people's lives, the most realistic way to do it (electing a libertarian is not realistic) is to strive for divided government.

Posted by David Wright | August 27, 2008 8:23 PM
But, since this is Obama’s campaign, I’m trying to hope—hope that Biden can change.

Who cares if Biden changes? It's actually better for us if he doesn't.

Because, until this last round, the VP was pretty much the most unimportant person in politics. So let's use Biden to smack those "Dems aren't tough on crime" douchebags around. Then, when the election is over, we can send him out to pasture. Because that's what a VP is for.

Posted by Judah | August 27, 2008 8:57 PM

Dominic, Senator Biden also made it possible for women to find safety and security from dudes that are beating the shit out of them.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb here by wagering that many of those abusive men are undoubtedly hopped up on drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Posted by kerri harrop | August 27, 2008 9:15 PM

1, maybe you could consider not having sex. then you would be less concerned with the laws and social injustices relating to it. sound like a plan?

Posted by ellarosa | August 27, 2008 9:22 PM

@9... Actually, I'm hoping THEY live long enough for us to see them eat their words.

Posted by drewl | August 27, 2008 9:36 PM

@13 is the only one who gets it.

Posted by Mahtli69 | August 27, 2008 9:38 PM

The "drug war" was ill conceived and ochestarted. This is neither news nor insightful.
Having said that the people who put their bong first are not the ones who bring change. The rest of us can see a bigger picture beyond the flame.

Posted by Zander | August 27, 2008 9:39 PM

Nobody is talking about voting with their bong. But Biden's policies have been innefective, wasteful, and racially discriminating. Biden basically admits that. No person in their right mind would think we should keep doing what we're doing. So--assuming an Obama/Biden ticket is elected, which is how I'm voting--it would be fanfuckingtastic if the man largely responible for this mess could use that power to clean it up.

Posted by Dominic Holden | August 27, 2008 9:59 PM

Capable because you're culpabe. Hence culpable becomes capable. Nice.

Posted by Cornichon | August 27, 2008 10:06 PM

We’re here today to send a message, not just to the Republican Party, not just to the politicians in power, but to the whole country and possibly the whole world.

... The power brokers are convinced that they can maintain control with no serious challenge. They have it wrong!

... We will challenge them on all fronts - in every state and at all levels of government. Individual liberty must be our goal. Peace and prosperity will follow.

... Change for the sake of change but not doing the right thing is pure folly. Our Revolution must prevail. And it will!

Join the Campaign for Liberty -

Posted by Tony K. | August 27, 2008 10:08 PM

Word up to six shooter @9. Tipper Gore was the No. 1 reason I DIDN'T VOTE IN 2000. I was young and stupid and it was California so I thought it was a gimme...

So now it's been eight (8!) fucking years of regret for my youthful indiscretion, and I think it's stupid and blind to say that VP picks or cabinet affiliates don't make a difference, BECAUSE THEY DO (when you're young and stupid and believe in a cause).

And remember Joe Lieberman? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot America?

Posted by kid icarus | August 27, 2008 10:13 PM

Hey, Ron Paul supporter @21: Please, can you and your fellow liberty enthusiasts band together and convince your candidate to throw his hat in the ring for this presidential election? Pretty please? The sooner the better.

Posted by flamingbanjo | August 27, 2008 10:19 PM

oh my god; I'm way too stoned to read this long ass post.

Posted by iain | August 28, 2008 12:10 AM

@ 1: i've never done drugs and this is a ridiculously important issue to me. it should be an issue for anyone who would rather invest more time and money in education and prevention rather than incarceration and rehabilitation. and by education and prevention, i don't mean DARE. i mean fixing our broken schools to give the kids who go there a fighting chance in a viable career that is not crime or drugs.

everyone pays for it in the end anyway, whether it's supporting people in detox, jail, or juvie via our tax dollars or being a victim of a drug-related crime (or "shoot first then knock" drug bust at the wrong house).

so why not pay for the kids when they are IN SCHOOL, as opposed to A LOST CAUSE? why keep feeding a system that criminalizes youth and pretty much makes schools a holding tank until they enter the prison system?

i say stop paying prison wardens more than what teachers make, stop building more jails than schools, and stop taking jobs away from parents who desperately need work to have a fighting chance at providing for their kids so they can break inviolate cycles of poverty and substance abuse

Posted by bridget | August 28, 2008 12:26 AM

kerri @ 14: actually, it's that good old legal drug (alcohol) that is involved in DV calls by a factor of oodles to one. And, oddly enough, that's true for the UK and much of her spawn (Ozzieland esp.) and not nearly so true for most other places.

And Zander @ 18: this has damn little to do with putting down the bong (I am not a pot smoker). With the possible exception of the war in Iraq, US drug policy is the single greatest waste of US tax dollars in the last 28 years. Let alone the human suffering and misery involved.

If we diverted just a fraction (1/17th) of what we spend on drug enforcement per year to HIV/AIDS prevention we probably could have reduced new infections in this country by 75% twenty years ago.

Posted by gnossos | August 28, 2008 12:39 AM

yeah oy. yer a single-issue voter for sure. why not just say it? also, here's a bunch of things i care about more than the right to smoke pot and get away with it, since that can already be done by anyone with any sense:

-gay rights

Posted by J Loomnor | August 28, 2008 1:06 AM

@ 22: You didn't vote because of the candidate's wife? I was no fan of tipper either, but that's a little nuts.

Youthful indescretion indeed.

Posted by Mike in MO | August 28, 2008 5:50 AM

lets not forget that biden is also in the pocket of 'big copyright'. riaa and mpaa. >:(

Posted by bo | August 28, 2008 6:50 AM

@27: You claim to be concerned about the economy, but don't care about the billions we waste on the drug war? Okay.

Posted by Darcy | August 28, 2008 8:23 AM

Joe Biden convinced me not to use credit cards issued by megabanks when he and the Republican senators voted in favour of the Bankruptcy Reform Act in 2005. My wallet is a fatter and my spending and energy usage have gone way down. Thanks for keeping me distrustful and wary of government and banks, Mr. Biden!

Posted by i love my hourlong commute | August 28, 2008 9:22 AM

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