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George W. Bush: The Culture War President

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George W. Bush, self-proclaimed War President, has taken on a new title, according to Gadflyer contributor William McColl: George W. Bush: The Culture War President. [1]

McColl writes that, "Even as issues like Iraq, gay marriage and the environmental protection command greater attention, the Bush administration has renewed the war on drugs. In this faith-based administration, the drug war is the ur-'values' war, the blueprint for the conservative kulturkampf." [2]

"As a candidate for President," McColl says, "George W. Bush looked rather moderate on drug issues. In October of 1999, he answered a question from CNN about medical marijuana by stating that 'I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose.' Later, after his election, he said 'I think a lot of people are coming to the realization that maybe long minimum sentences for first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease.' However, the arc of the drug war under Bush veered towards emphasizing morality and punitive policies within months of his inauguration." [3]

McColl points directly at Bush's "Drug Czar" John P. Walters as being "perhaps the key element in this equation. In the 1980s, Walters served as an Assistant to then-Secretary of Education Bill Bennett and then as Bennett's chief of staff at Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) when Bennett became the first cabinet-level drug czar. Walters left ONDCP in 1993 and became a bitter critic of President Bill Clinton's drug policies. Prior to his return as ONDCP's director, he solidified his standing in Republican circles as the President of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a far right-wing non-profit funded by the Olin, Scaife and Bradley Foundations (see funders) and the New Citizenship Project, whose goal is to promote religion in public life. Thus, he is not a neo-con but more of an old-line Bill Bennett values maven. Walters is in touch with his inner kulturkampfer." [4]

"Bennett and Walters had long sought platforms from which to force national discussion about character and values," McColl writes, with Walters a "particularly hard critic of Clinton's drug policies, co-authoring blistering articles for the Heritage Foundation and the Washington Times accusing Clinton of 'abandoning' the war on drugs. The articles call for a renewed war on drugs by using the presidential bully pulpit to get an anti-drug message out, stepped up use of the military for interdiction efforts, highlighting the deterrent effects of harsh mandatory minimum sentences, forcing source countries to reduce export of drugs and use of drug testing in treatment." [5]

"As drug czar, Walters has enacted his calls for a renewed drug war by emphasizing drug use as a moral issue and by "pushing back" against perceived cultural permissiveness. He has used his bully pulpit to force discussion of drugs into a black/white, us-against-them paradigm, a paradigm to which the concept of war is already well suited. As a result the major drug initiatives of the Bush administration have taken on a distinctly combative flavor." [6]

Additionally, "As part of his efforts to push back against his perception of a countercultural message favoring drugs, Walters has worked to eliminate any visible manifestation of drug culture. Thus, there can be no relaxation of any drug law for any purpose, including use as medicine. As a result there is a renewed effort to root out physicians who prescribe higher levels of opiates than some of their peers, despite widespread acknowledgement that the American medical establishment routinely undertreats pain. This may also explain the otherwise puzzling use of precious space in Bush's State of the Union 2004 address in January to discuss steroids. It's a visible, highly talked-about manifestation of drug-related culture." [7]

  • "Walters has also made good on his desire to invigorate interdiction efforts overseas. In Colombia the U.S. is now giving aid to help the government shoot down airplanes suspected of smuggling drugs."
  • "Walters is intent on ending drug policy experimentation in the states, a decidedly non-conservative position. He has sought to roll back popular medical marijuana laws in the 9 states that have passed them. He also directly opposed drug reform ballot initiatives in 2002 by traveling to, and directing taxpayer funded ads to, states where drug reform initiatives are on the ballot. In a similar vein, the DEA conducted raids on most of the major medical marijuana cooperatives in California, resulting in the arrests patients suffering from cystic fibrosis, cancer and other ailments."

This, then, brings McColl's article back to Bush's "culture war".

"Tommy Chong, 65-year-old grandfather, the lesser known half of the goofy late-70s burnout comedy duo Cheech and Chong, was convicted of the illegal sale of drug paraphernalia over the Internet (i.e. he marketed a line of glass bongs). In a bit of priceless comedic irony, the investigation was code-named Operation Pipe Dreams. Chong was sentenced to 9 months in prison on the second anniversary of September 11th. [8] [9] [10]
"Chong, with no prior arrests, is an unlikely figure to wind up in prison for rarely enforced paraphernalia laws. However he does, much to his misfortune, have one asset that the Bush administration's Justice Department covets in spades. He's got a high profile. Chong's takedown was meant to send a message to every stoner in America. Dude, you cannot wink at The Man." [11]

"Thus," McColl says, "Tommy Chong isn't merely a paraphernalia dealer, he is a personification of the 70s - and think how gratifying it must have been to imprison the 70s." [12]


Karen P. Hughes sounded another chord in Bush's "culture war" with her remarks about the Sunday, April 25, 2004, March for Women's Lives [13] by thousands of men and women in Washington. In "Pro-choice, anti-exploitation," democrats.org cites Hughes:

"I think that after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life. President Bush has worked to say, 'let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions.' And I think those are the kinds of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy and, really, the fundamental issue between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life."

On April 25, 2004, Anthony Hecht at Slapnose commented:

"See that? If you are pro-choice, you are also pro Al Qaeda."

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