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Drugs and Terrorism

During the Super Bowl the Office of National Drug Control Policy ran ads connecting drugs with terrorism. Is that really fair?

11:01 PM, Feb 6, 2002 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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THE FAMOUSLY FLUSH Office of National Drug Control Policy bought $3 million worth of advertising during the Super Bowl. We can leave aside the general question of whether government agencies ought to be spending the public's money to--in effect--lobby that very same public to keep shelling out money for them. We'll note merely that big-government hucksterism is on the rise, from state lotteries' stoking of gambling addictions on television to the U.S. Postal Service's roping in suckers to purchase its "first-edition" stamps.

We can leave aside, too, whether it's worth spending more money on a single-afternoon binge of anti-drug propaganda than it would cost to build a train station for a small city, or bring an internationally renowned production of the Ring Cycle to an opera-starved metropolis, or supply the air force with 120 daisy-cutter bombs to be used in the war on terrorism. (About as much money, in fact, as it cost to build the stadium the Super Bowl champion Patriots have played in for the past 31 years.)

But, as I say, let's leave that aside and focus on the content of the ads. One 30-second spot has become particularly controversial. The camera cuts between various teenagers either making outrageous confessions of murder or excusing drug use:

I helped murder families in Colombia

It was just innocent fun . . .

I helped kidnap people's dads

Hey! Some harmless fun!

I helped kids learn how to kill

I was having some fun, you know . . .

After a crypto-pro-life moment in which Miss Harmless Fun, the most obnoxious of the homicidal druggies, is made to say, "My life, my body!", it ends with two slogans across a silent screen:

Drug money supports terror.


If you buy drugs, you might, too.

What crap. Teenagers who are buying drugs are not killing families in Colombia. They're not even "helping" to kill families in Colombia. They are just buying drugs. Oughtn't that be bad enough for the Office of National Drug Control Policy?

Seems not. The drug bureaucracy appears to believe that no one will take its drug war seriously unless the federal government resorts to propaganda worthy of the Zhdanov-era Soviet Union. Like communist propaganda, these ads assert something that is kinda-sorta-true-in-a-certain-sense-like "Western capitalism rests on the enslavement of the Third World"--as both an unambiguous truth and a call to action. ("The Reagan administration is killing nuns in Latin America." True! True! All that's missing is a context!)

The ONDCP is both degrading the public discourse and playing with fire. This may be Chomskyism in the service of right-wing ends, but it's still Chomskyism. Once you start making assertions that are "in a sense" true, anyone can start playing that game:

Freely available weaponry supports terror--if you oppose gun control, you do, too.

Or, more to the point,

Drug prohibition creates a business opportunity for terrorists--if you oppose legalizing drugs, you support terror, too.

The fact is, we are in a war on terrorism. There will be occasions when the government will, for national security reasons, have to tell us less than the whole truth. That is all the more reason not to engage, unless it's absolutely necessary, in taxpayer-sponsored lying to the American public.

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.