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Politics of Drugs in the U.S.


A notable feature of American politics in the second half of the 1980s was the "war on drugs." The intensity of political and media "drug war" rhetoric and attention seemed to increase sharply through the second half of the 1980s, culminating with the highprofile appointment of William J. Bennett, an articulate and ideological national figure, as "drug czar" by President Bush. Yet  even before the eruption of a "real" war in the Persian Gulf  the rhetorical tempo of the drug war seems to have tapered off sharply since its high point in the fall of 1989.

Two further impressionistic assertions may be made regarding the (hypothesized) rise and fall of the drug war, assertions which  if correct  illuminate the politics of the drug war, and indeed the American political process itself. The first of these is that the rise of the drug war was closely tied to the electoral cycle. This writer vividly recalls a drumfire of drugwar rhetoric during the 1986 election campaign, followed by a sharp reduction of media interest in the topic after the election. The drug war also seemed to escalate, rhetorically at least, during the 1988 election campaign, faded somewhat, then was revived as a "permanent campaign" issue by the Bush Administration. Memory does not serve to indicate whether the drug issue showed a similar cycle in 1982 or 1984; certainly drugs did not seem a major issue in 1990.

The second impressionistic assertion is that the drug war's media profile sharply dropped in late 19891990, not long after drug legalization appeared as a serious  if largely rejected  option in mainstream public discussion of the drug issue. Such conservative public figures as former Secretary of State George Shultze, economist Milton Friedman, and columnist William F. Buckley, all "went public" with proposals for drug legalization, or at least with calls for d...

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