Friday, September 14, 2007

September 14

On this date in 1986, Ronald Reagan appeared with his wife Nancy in a nationally televised address devoted to a “great new, national crusade” against drugs. This “crusade” was hardly new, however, having actually begun during the Nixon administration more than fifteen years before; what made the Reagan drug war “new” was its regressive, punitive emphasis and its reliance on public rhetoric that displayed a complete absence of insight into the motivations and experiences of people who actually use or abuse drugs.

Those rhetorical preferences were displayed throughout the Reagans’ 1986 speech from the comforts of the West Hall of the White House. While her husband encouraged Americans to avoid drugs because such behavior would soil the memory of those who died in Normandy, Mrs. Reagan addressed herself to the children.
And finally, to young people watching or listening, I have a very personal message for you: There's a big, wonderful world out there for you. It belongs to you. It's exciting and stimulating and rewarding. Don't cheat yourselves out of this promise. Our country needs you, but it needs you to be clear-eyed and clear-minded. I recently read one teenager's story. She's now determined to stay clean but was once strung out on several drugs. What she remembered most clearly about her recovery was that during the time she was on drugs everything appeared to her in shades of black and gray and after her treatment she was able to see colors again.

So, to my young friends out there: Life can be great, but not when you can't see it. So, open your eyes to life: to see it in the vivid colors that God gave us as a precious gift to His children, to enjoy life to the fullest, and to make it count. Say yes to your life. And when it comes to drugs and alcohol just say no.
Over the next two years, the Reagan administration urged along new laws that imposed federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, including sentencing guidelines that punished crack users -- who were overwhelmingly poor -- more harshly than those who possessed or sold powdered cocaine. Abroad, the US pursued “supply-side” policies aimed at eliminating drugs at their source; although nearly every available data indicates that such policies have no appreciable effect on the actual supply of drugs, their veneer of “toughness” has proved irresistible for successive American presidents.

Meantime, two of Reagan’s most cherished foreign projects -- supporting anti-Soviet Islamic fighters in Afghanistan and anti-government guerilla forces in Nicaragua -- could not have been carried without the assistance of drug sales. While poppy growers in central Asia and cocaine traffickers in central America helped bankroll the “freedom fighters” with whom the US was allied, the Reagan administration looked the other way, preferring instead to swell the capacity of American prisons and scorch the landscapes of poor nations in the Southern hemisphere.