Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
You will not read about it in the New York Times. You will not see the footage on your nightly news. In fact, even C-Span did not dispatch a video camera to preserve the event. But this week, in the Rayburn Office Building of the House of Representatives, in hearing room 2154, several members of the United States Congress took part in a display of slander and intimidation worthy of a totalitarian regime.
The occasion was a hearing, held by the Congressional Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources titled: "The Pros and Cons of Drug Legalization, Decriminalization and Harm Reduction."
No one was under any illusion going in that the hearing, called by subcommittee chair John Mica (R-FL), was being held for the purpose of establishing a reasoned dialogue between people of differing philosophies. On a subcommittee that includes such avowed drug war hawks as Ben Gilman (R-NY), Mark Souder (R-IN), Bob Barr (R-GA), Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) and Mica himself, contention was virtually guaranteed. Expectations were so low, in fact, that for the balance of the day, ranking Democrat Patsy Mink was the only "moderate" in attendance.
What happened, however, went well beyond contention.
During the course of the one-day hearing, members of Congress compared advocates of drug policy reform to rapists, child abusers, and racists. Advocacy of reform itself was compared to the advocacy of pedophilia, again by a member of the House, seconded by a witness, the deputy administrator of the DEA.
As for those who fund the efforts of such advocates, mere slander was apparently insufficient.
Throughout the hearing, those funders were repeatedly threatened with retribution for their views, both implicitly and explicitly. Mr. Mica asked one high-ranking government witness whether he had ever looked into the question of where George Soros, perhaps the world's most well-known currency speculator and philanthropist, gets his money. Mr. Barr went so far as to suggest that the Justice Department prosecute Mr. Soros under the racketeering statutes for his support of reform. The Drug Policy Foundation, the nation's largest drug policy reform organization, was smarmily threatened with a "detailed look" into its finances.
Though it scarcely matters, as the right of free speech requires neither numbers nor credentials, it is worth noting that the cause of drug policy reform in America is advocated -- at some risk from their own government, it turns out -- by such perverse and unsavory characters as Walter Cronkite, former Secretary of State George Schultz, editor William F. Buckley, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Nobel prize-winner Milton Friedman, Dr. Benjamin Spock, journalist Hugh Downs, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, and millions of others from across the social and political spectrum. It is one thing to disagree with their assessment of our nation's policies. It is quite another to compare them to rapists and pedophiles, or to threaten those who lend support to their cause with criminal prosecution.
This week, several members of the United States House of Representatives came face to face with the First Amendment and, unable to discern its purpose, promptly shat upon it. What impact, pray tell, will this have on the willingness of Americans to speak out for their beliefs? What message did these elected officials send by their actions? These members of Congress, their salaries paid in tax dollars, laid waste this week to the bedrock principle of our republic. In doing so, they have ceded their moral authority to lead. It would be consistent with every teaching of our founding fathers were they to be removed from office. By ballot if necessary.