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‘High’ Hypocrisy on Capitol Hill

by LINN WASHINGTON JR.

Florida U.S. Congressman Trey Radel, recently convicted of possessing cocaine, rightly wears the label of Drug War hypocrite, but assigning that total to just that one prominent felon helps tends to hide the long-standing stench of Drug War hypocrisy that extends from Capitol Hill to the White House and state capitals nationwide, including members of both parties.

Yes, Tea Party-backed Radel (R-Fla.), busted recently in a federal sting operation in the act of purchasing cocaine, deserves his hypocrisy dunce cap for antics like siding this year with a Republican seeking to require food stamp recipients to first receive mandatory drug testing.

Philadelphia Democratic Congressman Bob Brady notes what many of his Capitol Hill colleagues (hypocritically) refuse to acknowledge publicly. “An elected official who calls for drug testing for poor people trying to feed their families with the support of food stamps while knowing that he is himself a drug user is an absolute violation of the public trust,” Brady stated.

The mean-spirited initiative from Radel and his GOP confederates for pee-tests from persons impoverished enough to need government food assistance has, it should be noted, proved a costly failure in the Sunshine State.

Republican state legislators in Florida implemented drug tests for welfare applicants, but the program was later halted by a federal judge. During its brief period of operation, though, Florida spent nearly $200,000 on this pound-the-poor program while flagging just 108 of 4,086 welfare applicants, according to published reports. No matter. Republicans in other states have pushed for similar measures, including drug testing persons seeking unemployment benefits. Republicans usually back off such pound-the-poor drug testing when Democrats demand drug tests for legislators.

The rising outrage from top GOP officials in Florida demanding the resignation of former broadcast journalist Radel contrasts sharply to the Capitol Hill silence on ‘resign-now’ from normally tough-on-crime GOP legislators’… silence that is tantamount to their coddling a criminal.

Given Radel’s current convicted felon status, the chairman of Florida’s statewide GOP, the heads of two county GOP organizations in Radel’s Southwest Florida district plus that state’s Republican Governor Rick Scott (himself a Medicare fraudster), have called for Radel to resign his congressional seat, contending Radel’s drug conviction renders him ineffective as a legislator.

Under Florida’s reactionary voting laws, felons cannot vote, but nothing prevents them from running for office or serving in office.

That felony disenfranchisement of voters creates an unseemly circumstance: Radel votes in Congress yet he is barred from even voting to elect a reptile catcher in his home state, currently swarming with invasive pythons.

Florida Gov Scott toughened his state’s already reactionary felon disenfranchisement law in a crassly partisan move that gutted slight reforms in that racially. The reforms had been demanded after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush craudely manipulated the law in 2000 to help his brother George W. Bush, to steal a close election in 2000, installing ‘W’ in the White House despite his winning fewer votes nationally than his opponent Al Gore.

Jeb Bush, in another example of Drug War hypocrisy, once sought leniency for one of his daughters who had been busted for illegal acquisition of prescription drugs at the same time as he was bacckin a hard-line stance demanding prison sentences for first-time drug offenders, including those busted for simple possession. Bush’s daughter received rehab. That non-prison status continued even after a second bust in rehab of this favored Bush daughter. This second offense was for possessing crack cocaine — a crime that sends young blacks and hispanics in the state to prison on a fast track.

Trey Radel has said he will not resign. Following his arrest, the congressman pleaded guilty, received a sentence of one year probation. He then entered rehab, apologizing publicly to his family and constituents for his alleged “alcoholism,” which he claims had led “to an extremely irresponsible choice.”

Demands from Florida State GOP leaders’ for Radel’s resignation fall on deaf ears on Capitol Hill, where a supportive silence from GOP leaders, anxious to preserve their majority at all costs, surrounds Radel.

House Speaker John Boehner, who normally displays little tolerance for scandalous infractions by members of Congress, has been uncharacteristically conciliatory towards Radel, verbally dancing away from mentioning that R-word: resignation. In a released statement, Boehner pontificated about holding members of Congress to the “highest standards,” yet asserted that “…this is between Representative Radel, his family and his constituents.”

The best that can be said about Boehner’s duck-&-dodge-constituents-decide line is that it has some bi-partisan traction.

For example, Philadelphia-area Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who as a Democratic congressional official in 2011 demanded the resignation of fellow Democrat Anthony Weiner during Weiner’s penis exposure scandal, is also conciliatory towards Radel.

A statement from Schwartz accepted Radel’s admission of his alcohol addiction plus his getting treatment for that “disease” but contended – like Boehner – that Radel, his family and constituents must determine “whether he can continue to serve in office.”

At least Schwartz, who has announced her condidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in Pennsylvania, has publicly commented on Radel’s resignation. Other members of Congress, like fellow Philadelphia Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah, did not respond to requests for comment on Radel’s situation.

House Speaker Boehner, a professed anti-drug warrior, supported the 1996 law barring federally funded housing assistance to persons convicted of drug crimes.

That draconian law even applies to public housing residents simply related to drug offenders. The zero-tolerance law, signed by then Democratic President Bill Clinton, immediately produced thousands of evictions of law-abiding elderly and infirm public housing residents who did not even know that a relative was involved with drugs on or off public housing premises.

Additionally Boehner supported a 1995 congressional action, also backed by President Clinton, that rejected elimination of one of the Drug Wars most racist measures: the sentencing law penalizing crack cocaine more harshly than powder cocaine.

That late 1980s-era law filled federal prisons with blacks, primarily street corner dealers and even crack addicts charged with simple possession. Congressional rejection of a U.S. Sentencing Commission recommendation to change that racially biased sentencing law represented the first ever congressional rejection of a Sentencing Commission recommendation.

It bears recalling that the same President Clinton who took that hard line on public housing residents and crack law offenders admitted during his campaign for president using pot…albeit with the absurd caveat of ‘smoking but not inhaling.’ Clinton’s lawyerly ability to parse his pot smoking was a precursor to his drawing a distinction during the Monica Lewinsky Oval Office sex scandal between sexual acts, claiming fellatio was not having sex.in order to dodge a perjury conviction.

Outside the Beltway many cite the Capitol Hill silence on Radel’s continued congressional service as another glaring example of the double-standards rife in the War on Drugs. Racism has stained this decades’ long enforcement onslaught.

Many cite the prison sentence meted to Washington, DC Mayor Marion Berry, an African-American, after his arrest for smoking crack in a federal sting operation and compare it to the probation sentence slapped on Radel’s powder cocaine possession.

However, a more odious example of racist double standards occurred a few months before Berry’s January 1990 arrest, when then President George H. W Bush resorted to subterfuge for dramatizing his need to intensify the Drug War. The Bush White House had federal drug agents lure a black teenage crack dealer into the park across from the White House for a purchase. That entrapment enabled Bush to wave that confiscated crack as a prop during a nationally televised speech on drugs, where Bush — himself a reputed cocaine user in his younger days–falsely declared the drug scourge was on the doorstep of the White House.

That teen in this orchestrated spectacle received a ten-year sentence under the mandatory provisions of the unjust crack laws supported by Bush, Clinton, Boehner and others. A federal judge, apologizing during sentencing for having to impose such a lengthy mandatory term, urged that teen to seek clemency from Bush, who the judge accused from the bench of having “used” the teen “in making a big speech on the drug trade.”

President Bush failed to either pardon or grant clemency to that teen but, in 1992, did grant Christmas Eve pardons to six of his criminal colleagues in the Reagan Administration – where he served as Vice-President. Those six were involved in the Iran-Contra Scandal, where the Reagan White House covertly aided illegal cocaine sales inside the United States to help fund their favored Contra guerillas fighting to overthrow the government in Nicaragua.

Trey Radel is simply one name on a long list of hypocrites in politics, which highlights the need to end the fiscally wasteful and tactically unsuccessful War on Drugs, a bankrupt policy that drains funding from dire social needs while making America the most imprisoned nation on earth.

LINN WASHINGTON, JR. is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper. His work, and that of colleagues JOHN GRANT, DAVE LINDORFF, LORI SPENCER and CHARLES M. YOUNG, can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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