Herdt: A Change in The Battle Plans

Herdt: A Change in The Battle Plans
Posted by FoM on August 09, 2000 at 13:56:43 PT
Campbell decides to campaign on an idea
Source: Ventura County Star
The most provocative speech delivered by a Republican in Philadelphia last week came not in the scripted, antiseptic rhetorical environment at the Union Center. Rather, the speech was delivered to the alternative Shadow Convention, an issue-based conference organized by free-thinking commentator Arianna Huffington. 
The speaker was Rep. Tom Campbell, the Republican U.S. Senate nominee from California. The subject was the nation's drug policy. The thinking was fresh. From the excerpts shown on television, the delivery of Campbell's speech was not polished. But the words themselves, coming from a major party candidate in a political era that celebrates bland centricism, were strikingly unconventional. Campbell began by reciting the record of the nation's 20-year war on drugs: a five-fold increase in the number of deaths by overdose, a doubling in the number of high school seniors who say drugs are readily available to them, a ten-fold increase in incarcerations for drug arrests. "I cannot stand before any audience and credibly say what we all want to hear -- that we're winning the war on drugs," Campbell said. "Instead of retreating to the comfortable political ground and calling for more interdiction and incarceration, I challenge our leaders to address the question of treatment." Again, he recited some numbers -- these from the Rand Corp.'s Drug Policy Research Center: Each additional dollar spent on treatment is eight times more effective in reducing cocaine use than a dollar spent on new mandatory jail time; treatment is 15 times more effective in reducing crime than mandatory sentences; 23 times more effective in reducing drug usage than eradicating crops. The focus of the Nixon administration's anti-drug efforts was treatment. Two-thirds of the federal money went for treatment, and progress was demonstrated between 1971 and 1973. Today, only a fifth of federal anti-drug money is directed to treatment. Yet Congress has just approved another $1.3 billion for the drug war -- not to treat addicts in the United States, but to arm warriors to fight drug lords in Colombia. "This sounds familiar, doesn't it?" Campbell asked. "We're entering a jungle in a third-world country, to fight a civil war with roots at least 30 years deep... "We're sending U.S. military advisers... All that's missing is the signature of Robert McNamara." The same money spent on treatment, he said, could save 1.3 million lives in America and deprive the drug lords of 1.3 million ravenous consumers. "I will pay a price for challenging the status quo," Campbell predicted. "I will be called reckless, radical, coddling of criminals... "The war on drugs has failed, and I cannot remain silent as this failure continues to wreak a terrible toll on this nation." Campbell has in fact already been called reckless by Democratic supporters of incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But as it happens, the Senate campaign will coincide with that over a ballot proposition that may direct public attention to the failures of the war on drugs. Proposition 36 would require that nonviolent drug offenders -- those charged with possession or being under the influence of illegal drugs, but not selling them -- be sentenced to treatment rather than jail. Campbell has signed on as a supporter. Proponents, while happy to have an elected Republican among their list of endorsers to balance the handful of liberal Democratic lawmakers already signed on, aren't so sure that Campbell's support will help. He is, after all, lagging badly in the polls. But it should be noted that the opposition -- led by district attorneys and funded by the prison guards' union -- is not defending the war on drugs. Rather, the strategy so far has been to argue that drug courts, in which the judge has a choice between a sentence of jail time or treatment, yield more effective treatment. With Campbell on the stump with nothing to lose and both sides of the Proposition 36 campaign well funded, there is a chance that this election season will produce one issue of substance this fall. Imagine that. A political campaign about an idea, about challenging orthodoxy, about a fundamental change in policy to more effectively fight a problem that ruins the lives of millions of Americans and their families. That may be the most radical idea of all. -- Timm Herdt is chief of the Star state bureau. His e-mail address is Herdt insidevc.comContact: letters staronline.comPublished: Wednesday August 9, 2000Copyright: 2000, Ventura County StarRelated Article & Web Sites:The Shadow Conventions Convention 2000 News Board Speaks To National Audience Articles On The Shadow Conventions: CannabisNews Articles On The Shadow Conventions: 
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