One of the winners last Tuesday was Mitch Daniels, a Republican and former director of the Office of Management and Budget for President George W. Bush, who ousted a Democratic incumbent, Joe Kernan, to become the governor-elect of the state of Indiana. Daniels, it came out during the campaign, was arrested for marijuana possession while a student at Princeton University in 1970. The young future governor spent a couple of days in jail, was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct, paid a fine, and it was done. The press, appropriately, also queried Gov. Kernan's office on the subject. Kernan's spokesperson acknowledged that he had also used marijuana -- "a few times" in his twenties, she said -- but didn't provide further details.
It's ironic that Daniels' drug bust happened when he was in college, because it is another Indiana Republican, Rep. Mark Souder, who is responsible for the controversial Higher Education Act drug provision, a law that takes financial aid away from students for any drug conviction, for time periods ranging from a year to indefinitely. The law has been criticized by many of the nation's leading civil rights, higher education, and religious organizations, among others. And the campaign revelations about Daniels and Kernan prompted an Indianapolis Star columnist, Dan Carpenter, to weigh in with a call for repeal of the law as well.
Opposition to the current form of the law, interestingly, comes from Mark Souder himself, who claims he never intended it to apply to people who committed their drug offenses before they entered college -- unconvincingly, in my opinion, as there is nothing in the language of his legislation to suggest this interpretation -- but significantly, because the law will probably soon be changed in this way.
The thing is, Mitch Daniels was in school when he was busted for marijuana. Under Souder's law, even with Souder's fix enacted, he could have potentially run afoul of it and suffered far greater troubles as a result. Should Mitch Daniels have been forced out of Princeton, possibly had his career derailed, and not become governor, because he smoked marijuana during college? Should Joe Kernan have avoided such troubles only because he didn't get caught? I don't feel that way, and that's one of the reasons I oppose the HEA drug provision. But does Mark Souder think his colleague and fellow party leader should have been held back from succeeding? I hope not, but that is the effect his law is having on others just like Daniels, so I'm not sure.
I also don't know if Mitch Daniels would have qualified for or needed financial aid to go to school, but that is not so important. Consistent application of the idea behind the law -- application independent of a student's economic standing -- would require that any student incurring a drug conviction be kicked out of school, or forced to undergo some other form of hardship related to continuing in school beyond the punishment exacted by the criminal justice system.
For that matter, consistency would require that anyone caught drinking underage while in college would also get kicked out for it; alcohol after all, is a drug, and an illegal one for people under 21. And it would require a very serious effort to find all the underage drinkers and illegal drug users who abound in such numbers on our nation's campuses. But doing so would financially decimate our institutions of higher learning and disrupt the training and economic output of a large segment of our society.
To avoid hypocrisy, therefore, Souder, and Daniels (and Kernan) should clearly stake out one of the following positions:
1) Mitch Daniels should have been kicked out of Princeton, and not allowed to attend a different school, for a year, because he possessed marijuana. He should probably also not have been able to go on to become federal budget director or Indiana governor; or
2) Daniels (and Kernan) should not have suffered that fate, therefore neither should today's students, so the law should be repealed in full.
I vote for option #2. I'm not expecting this to happen, obviously; hypocrisy and double standards are defining characteristics of the drug war. Daniels' statements on the issue so far have been negative. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be asked about it, again and again. Because if they wouldn't have wanted it for themselves, if they don't want it for their children, they should do unto others as they would have others do unto them.