George W. Bush and the Politics of Personal Destruction

By Tyree Callahan, TNC Regional Leader

Texas Governor George W. Bush has a cocaine problem. The question of cocaine use has dogged the Bush campaign since Wednesday, August 19, when the New York Times asked candidates if they had ever used illegal drugs and whether they believed the question is appropriate. Bush, dismissing the question as destructive politics, was the only presidential candidate who refused to answer.

Despite how George W. Bush or anyone else feels about the politics of personal destruction, this question will not go away, nor should it. There is a precedent set when a political candidate refers to previous drug use as a simple "youthful indiscretion." That precedent becomes more important when the candidate runs for president and the alleged "youthful indiscretion" is the use of cocaine.

George W. Bush, as governor of Texas, reigned over a policy of personal destruction, and he ought to answer any potential conflict of interest issues. In 1997, for example, there were 26,436 arrests for possession of cocaine in Texas. By 1998, the last year for which data are available, cocaine arrests had increased to 28,158. Every year the lives of nearly 30,000 Texas citizens are permanently scarred by cocaine convictions. If the cocaine itself did not ruin the lives of these people, Governor Bush assures the punishment will. Currently in the State of Texas there are 13,501 inmates that are being held on various cocaine charges, including possession, sale and manufacturing - about 10 % of the state's prison population. In 1997, Bush signed into law a measure that toughened penalties for people convicted of selling or possessing less than one gram of cocaine.

If George W. Bush intends to apply the same draconian Texas drug policy to the national arena, that number will inflate an already bloated national prison and court system. The drug war in general has been an immoral political bastion of personal destruction, claiming 1,583,600 arrests in 1997 alone. Prisons are overcrowded and prison budgets now exceed educational funding in some states.

Bush can easily dismiss his past drug use by saying, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible." That is because, at least in terms of the current standards for drug war justice, he never paid for his crimes. If George W. Bush is elected president, the drug war will likely plow through the lives of millions of additional Americans.

In October of 1998, Bill Clinton signed into law the Higher Education Act. This act included a provision that will revoke or delay a student's federal financial aid or work assistance if a student is convicted of a drug offense, regardless of how minor the offense is. The non-violent "youthful indiscretions" of yesteryear are today punishable with unjust mandatory minimum sentences and terrifying ordeals of prison rape and violence.

Add to that the denial of an education to a population that can benefit the most from it and you have a serious social catastrophe in the works. The American people should demand that George W. Bush come clean, regardless of whether or not he used cocaine in the first place. In any case, it would be wise for the next president, whoever it may be, to steer us away from the iceberg of a continuous and unwinnable war on drugs.