Remember Super Tuesday? John Kerry was in Washington that day, in a dark, depressing shopping mall called the Old Post Office Pavilion. Flanked by his family and about 1200 Washington insiders who had arrived early to formally kiss his ass, Kerry, mouth all Chiclets, gave a smug acceptance speech and gleefully cracked the proverbial champagne magnum on the S.S. Foregone Conclusion, which comes into port in Boston this week.
I was about 15 yards from Kerry during his Super Tuesday speech, just to his left, in the press section. I was at the stage of my campaign-trail work where I was actually pretending, in public, to "cover" the campaign so that the other reporters would not catch on to what was going on in my mind. After about three weeks on the bus with Kerry, I was in a state of almost complete mental paralysis. It was almost like a state of amnesia, or the annihilating early onset of schizophrenic illness, brought on by some deeply traumatic experience--like watching your father butcher your mother to death, or catching your wife screaming with pleasure in bed with Hitler.
To this day I can't describe what brought it on, although I'm sure it had something to do with the campaign. I only remember that I was at Kerry's Super Tuesday speech in body only. On the outside I was just trying to get through the motions, while inside I struggled to put the pieces back together. As Kerry began his speech, I stared at the podium with blank eyes. And just then, someone behind me to my left tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned around. A short, bald man with maniacal eyes extended his hand, breathing loudly through his mouth.
"Isn't this great?" he said.
"I guess," I said.
"Bob Weiner," he said.
I shook his hand. "Matt Taibbi," I replied.
He smiled proudly. "I'm with the Office of National Drug Control Policy," he said. "Well, I used to be, anyway. Used to be the Communications Director. I worked with Barry McCaffrey!"
"Oh," I said, recoiling a little. "No shit."
"Yeah, no shit!" he said. "What do you do, Matt?"
"I'm working for Rolling Stone."
"Oh," he said. "Good magazine. We did some things with you folks a couple of years ago."
In the state I was in, it suddenly seemed entirely possible that the ostensibly countercultural Rolling Stone was in some kind of cooperative, collusive arrangement with the White House Drug Czar. It later turned out that Weiner was referring to some RS pro-legalization article that he had provided dissenting quotes for. But at the time I didn't know this, and the Orwellian realization that I myself might be indirectly working with the drug-enforcement apparatus just bounced harmlessly off my flatlined psyche.
"Gosh," I said, "that's nice. The thing is, Bob, I'm not feeling too well right now..."
"Yeah, it's a good magazine, despite it all," he said, ignoring me. Then he waved his hand in the direction of the podium. "But you know what's great about this?"
"No," I said honestly. "What?"
"We're going to have a president with sense again," he said. "This current guy is a disaster. Right now, all domestic law enforcement goes through Ashcroft and Ridge. It's all about terrorism now. I mean, the War on Drugs isn't even a priority!"
"Wow," I said, "that's just self-defeating."
"Thank God for Kerry," he said. "It's going to be like the old days again."
Like the old days again. For all those people who are going to turn on the TV this week and imagine that what they're seeing at the convention is nothing more than the Democratic Party's current stated platform -- "Harmless Bullshit for America" -- I urge them to consider a few things about the Kerry campaign. It has a few features that have been commented on very little in public. For one, it's crawling with narcs.
There is a fiction being perpetuated in the media that the Democratic Party is "more united than ever," that "the whole party has been energized" by the mission of defeating George Bush. (I think the reality is that the would-be dissenters are simply too depressed to argue.) A corollary to this assumption is the alleged reason for this unity, which is that, apart from Iraq, there were virtually no differences between any of the candidates who ran for the nomination in the last year.
I started to notice this in the press after Iowa. A typical example is this line from a piece by Walter Shapiro of USA Today: "Things might have been different for Kerry if the Democratic Party was riven by major ideological cleavages," he wrote. "But once the war in Iraq receded as a litmus-test issue for Democratic voters, the relatively minor differences among the candidates on domestic policy were not enough to sway the outcome."
Really? Howard Dean told me in the plainest language possible that he did not think that nonviolent drug offenders should go to jail. "I mean, if you're selling heroin in a school zone, that's maybe something you should go to jail for, but otherwise, it's a medical issue," he said.
Dean explained to me that since most drug laws were state laws, his likely strategy as president for clearing the prisons would be to provide block grants to states that develop alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders.
What kind of people were you likely to find on the Dean plane? A lot of ex-Clinton types, true, but also people like Kurt Schmoke, the former Yale classmate of Dean's and mayor of Baltimore, who once called the Drug War "our domestic Vietnam" and was the first major politician in the country to advocate the decriminalization of drugs.
Who would you find hanging around the Kerry campaign? Forget about people like Weiner, who just showed up uninvited. One of the constants of the Kerry plane was a guy named David Morehouse, who is a senior political advisor to Kerry. Morehouse, like Weiner, is a former ONDCP heavy. He was once the number-two man in the agency behind Barry McCaffrey. Just a few days after Super Tuesday, he explained to me with pride that he had been involved with the planning of many of the ONDCP's most celebrated PR campaigns.
"Like the fried-egg thing?" I said.
"Well, yes, the fried-egg thing, and some others," he said.
Morehouse said he left the ONDCP before the plan to plant hidden anti-drug messages in the scripts of TV shows like Friends and E.R. went into action, but admitted he had been there during the planning of these programs.
These are the kinds of people Kerry hangs out with: the fried-egg guy.
And how about Kerry's likely replacement for Tom Ridge? Rand Beers, Kerry's Homeland Security advisor, is one of the most zealous and remorseless narcs in American history. As undersecretary of state for international drug enforcement under Clinton, Beers signed off on a defoliating program in South America in which a substance similar to Agent Orange was sprayed over would-be coca fields along the Colombian-Ecuadorian border.
When an environmental group filed suit on behalf of Ecuadorian peasants who claimed -- with the support of the Red Cross -- that the sprays had caused the destruction of all crops as well as severe birth defects in humans and livestock, Beers responded by insinuating that the plaintiffs had ties to al Qaeda through the Colombian FARC rebels.
But heck, at least he's not George Bush. Right? Isn't that what we're supposed to be thinking this week?
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