Insights: Politics—Taboo Topics
Want to stop a presidential candidate in his tracks? Say "China," "drug abuse" or "government waste"
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00
In 1995-'96, 26,000 Americans got their full allotment of food stamps right on time every month of the year. Democrats would say that was great, that their entitlement plans for the poor are right on track. Republican presidential contender George W. Bush would also be pleased--saying that it is an example of his "compassionate conservatism." There is only one problem: the food stamps were sent to Americans who are dead. Eight-and-a-half million taxpayer dollars are also dead.
Government inefficiency and waste is one of the big issues the presidential hopefuls really don't want to mention during this campaign. The other two are China, with its violently oppressive government, and the war on drugs that America is losing big-time. Those issues are deemed by some observers to be unsolvable--at least the way the United States operates today--and the candidates go pale at the mere mention of them.
Right now authorities on the federal, state and local levels are spending more than $30 billion a year to fight the importation and distribution of illegal narcotics in the United States. And that doesn't include the billions of dollars we send to places like Colombia, Peru, Thailand and Turkey to make sure their citizens don't grow coca and poppies, the sources of cocaine and heroin, respectively. Of course, these countries gladly take the big Yankee money and do a little spraying now and then while the farmers wave at the planes and continue growing their cash crops.
Back in America, recreational drug use has declined significantly since 1979, but hard-core drug use has not. It remains a stubborn problem that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates costs taxpayers $70 billion a year in unnecessary health care, extra law enforcement, auto accidents, crime and lost job productivity. Once again, that's a $70 billion hit that you and I are taking, year in and year out.
So, do the candidates have any new solutions to the problem? Well, quite frankly, no. In his tenure as governor of Texas, Bush instituted no innovative drug-control programs. Vice President Al Gore did not introduce any new drug-fighting legislation while he was a senator. When asked about the drug problem, Bush and Gore agree on one thing: more education and rehabilitation is needed. Heard that one before?
The truth is that our leaders have no idea how to solve the drug problem and would just as soon stay away from the issue as it is not in the forefront of the American consciousness right now. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University estimates that 6 million Americans smoke pot on a regular basis, 1 million are addicted to heroin, a half million are addicted to crack, and up to 3.6 million Americans regularly use cocaine. Those numbers have been fairly consistent for the past 10 years or so as the drug culture has become entrenched within American society.
So the cycle of drug abuse and drug crime continues. The solution lies in coerced drug rehabilitation in state-run therapeutic facilities for any American convicted of a crime who tests positive for illegal narcotics. Alabama has this kind of program, and it gets convicts off drugs at twice the rate that outpatient rehab does. Of course, forcing people to get treatment will bring outcries from a segment of society that is generally permissive when it comes to these kinds of things, and that's why the politicians stay away from this solution.
The second issue bedeviling Bush and Gore is China, foreign policy problem number one. Here we have a country of roughly 1.25 billion people that is the last real threat to the United States on Earth. Its government has stolen our nuclear technology and sold it to Pakistan and Iran. Right now, the Chinese are burning Roman Catholic churches and arresting priests and nuns on charges of subversion. (Atheist China limits religious worship to state-registered churches.) Chinese authorities continue to brutally suppress their own people, and China has its eye on Taiwan, biding its time for the right opportunity to occupy that island.
Our policy has been to engage China economically, even though the balance of trade is laughable. China makes big dollars sending its stuff here while we make chump change sending our stuff there, because most Chinese have no money and the government puts all kinds of restrictions on buying U.S. goods. Despite that, Presidents Bush and Clinton fought hard to get China the best trade deals possible--not only with us but also around the world.
The problem comes when some nasty reporter like me asks Gore or George W. what they'll do about China's abysmal human rights policy. Confronted with the China problem, our presidential aspirants talk of appeasement and patience--and little else. Imposing economic sanctions against China would bring fear and loathing from the American corporate community, which is drooling at the potential of that giant market. We have no effective strategy to pressure China to behave, and neither of these guys will bring one to the table.
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