Cigar Aficionado

Insights: Politics—Taboo Topics

Want to stop a presidential candidate in his tracks? Say "China," "drug abuse" or "government waste"

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.  

The third issue that makes the candidates gag is government waste. Democrat Gore is happy with the way the government operates and even wants to add more mammoth programs to its already hefty roster. Republican Bush wants to reform the system but trembles when you ask him which programs have to go, because he knows that to name names would cost him precious votes. Remember: the Democrats are running on massive entitlement programs; they are literally buying votes. If the Republicans threaten to shut down some gravy trains, the passengers onboard those trains may cross the tracks to the other party.  

But government waste is staggering and taxes continue to rise because of it. The Senate Government Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, said that $35 billion was "lost" by the federal government in 1998 alone. Thompson calls that a conservative estimate, because government agencies are not required to keep track of the money "lost" to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.  

Here's a great example of what's going on. Last spring, Hillary Clinton, her daughter, Chelsea, and an entourage of 20 traveled to North Africa for 12 days. They visited all the ancient attractions, had some photo-ops with the locals, and Mrs. Clinton made a speech or two. Then they came home, laden with presents and expensive souvenirs. So how much did that cost the taxpayers exactly? Well, nobody knows.  

The General Accounting Office (GAO) doesn't know because it does not oversee this kind of trip. The White House doesn't know and didn't like me asking about it. The Secret Service said that its expenses are secret and that it is not required to keep track of what the people it protects spend. I believe it was the most expensive spring break in history, but I can't put a figure to it. The fact is that nobody can.  

This happens all the time. Outrageous spending without accountability is a hallmark of our government and has been for decades. There is no government agency in charge of making sure tax dollars are spent effectively. The GAO just counts up the spending and doesn't even insist that the various agencies itemize. Washington is awash in tax money these days, and it is party time in the District.  

Yet Gore, like John McCain and Bill Bradley earlier in the primaries, tells us the government doesn't have enough money for entitlements and Social Security to allow any significant tax cuts. Hey, here's a bulletin: taxes could be cut by 20 percent across the board and you'd still be able to fund entitlements and pay down the debt, if somebody would just demand that our tax money be spent responsibly.   Next time you see Gore or Bush, ask him if he'll make that demand. And then tell him about the 26,000 dead people who got their food stamps right on time.    

Bill O'Reilly is the executive producer and anchor of "The O'Reilly Factor" on the Fox News Channel.