Clinton '96 Should Stick by Drug Policy of Clinton '92

Article excerpt

The president "confuses being tough with being smart." He "thinks locking up addicts instead of treating them before they commit crimes ... is clever politics. That may be, but it certainly isn't sound policy.... A president should speak straight even if what he advocates isn't popular. If he sticks to his guns, the results will prove the wisdom of his policy."

Candidate Bill Clinton was right on target in this 1992 attack against President George Bush.

Now incumbent Clinton is under heated but misguided attack by Bob Dole and congressional allies. If Clinton deserves criticism on drug policy, it is his own: He has confused being tough with being smart and failed to stick to his guns. The Republicans blame increased drug use on Clinton's early efforts to scale back the overseas drug war budget. But those cuts were well-founded. Government studies had confirmed what outside analysts argued for years: Attempts to interdict drugs overseas and at our borders had failed to affect levels of price and availability in the United States. The more drugs were seized, the more were produced and shipped; for every route cut off, new ones sprang up. Clinton should have countered his critics with evidence that a Bush-style escalation of the war on supply - Dole's model - would not lower use and abuse. Despite Bush's near doubling of annual drug enforcement budgets from $4.6 to $8 billion dollars, the war on supply failed to meet its key objective: to raise drug prices to bring down consumption. Heroin and cocaine became cheaper and more available. At the height of the Bush drug war, hard-core drug use rose more dramatically than under Clinton. If Clinton deserves criticism, it is for failing to stand his ground against unworkable policies. To prove his toughness this election year, he urged a $100 million increase in the interdiction budget. He has pursued much the same punitive enforcement strategy as Bush. By 1996 he was asking Congress for $10 billion for domestic and foreign drug enforcement, 25 percent more than Bush's last request. On Capitol Hill, GOP critics have challenged Clinton's efforts to increase treatment for hard-core drug users. As the campaign heated up this summer, Bush's deputy drug control director, John Walters, testified that increased treatment was "ineffectual policy - the latest manifestation of the liberals' commitment to a 'therapeutic state' in which government serves as the agent of personal rehabilitation. …