Clinton's Abandoned War on Drugs

Article excerpt

Of all of the personal, political and bureaucratic scandals that have plagued Bill Clinton's presidency, perhaps none is as serious as its abandonment of the war on drugs.

As soon as he became president he slashed the budget of the White House drug abuse office and deliberately de-emphasized the issue. Ronald Reagan's all out war against drug traffickers and pushers, along with Nancy Reagan's effective "just say no" crusade aimed at our kids, became a distant memory. There were reports that many of the president's younger aides had used drugs, and Mr. Clinton admitted that he had tried marijuana but "didn't inhale," later telling an MTV audience of kids that he now wished he had.

The signal being sent from this administration to a lot of young people, unintended or not, seemed to be that maybe recreational drugs were not such a bad thing.

Now there is growing evidence that drug abuse has been rising at an alarming rate among adolescents under Mr. Clinton's watch. And it is sparking growing criticism that the once-mighty government assault on drugs died as soon as he took office.

Two national surveys released last month show that there has been a sharp rise in the number of teen-agers using "hard drugs," including heroin, cocaine or LSD, with some of the biggest increases occurring among youths as young as age 12. Experts who have studied the latest statistics say they paint a disturbing picture of a serious teen drug epidemic that is getting worse.

But while the drug abuse numbers have been rising, Mr. Clinton's critics say he has been ignoring the problem, concentrating instead on easier, lower priority issues such as his recent ban on smoking outside of government office buildings.

"His priorities are backward. We need to focus on the more serious problems. He needs to get his eyes off people smoking outside of federal buildings and on kids who are destroying their lives," said Robert Maginnis, senior policy adviser on drugs at the Family Research Council.

"We don't have a war on drugs. We have a terrible drug scourge afflicting our kids. Why aren't we getting serious about this?" Mr. Maginnis told me.

"When the number of 12-year-olds who know cocaine and heroin users doubles in one year, that's a crisis that demands presidential leadership. Yet Bill Clinton's silence on the worsening drug crisis is deafening," says magazine publisher Steve Forbes.

Attacking Mr. Clinton in a series of radio ads around the country for "a deeply disturbing lack of leadership in the war on drugs," Mr. Forbes asks, "Where is Bill Clinton? Why isn't he leading on this issue?"

Mr. Forbes, a candidate for president last year, has been running radio ads against drug legalization initiatives here in D.C. and in Washington state. Notably, he has also been airing the ads in Martha's Vineyard, where the president has been vacationing.

Meantime, the official statistical evidence of a national drug epidemic among young people has been piling up. …