The war on drugs has a Cronkite moment

In February 1968, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite summed up the war in Vietnam in a historic broadcast.  “To say that we are mired in stalemate,” he said, “seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.”

Cronkite defined middle-America and his message was a body blow to the war planners who were still trying to sell the war as a winnable, rational policy.

The war on drugs — first defined in those terms by then-President Richard Nixon in 1971 — had a similar moment last week.

Evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson came out in support of decriminalizing marijuana and he condemned the ‘get tough on crime movement’ that defined the politics of the last three decades.

“That wasn’t the answer,” Robertson said.  He went on to add this:

We’re locking up people that take a couple of puffs of marijuana and the next thing you know they’ve got ten years.  They’ve got mandatory sentences and the judges just say, they throw up their hands and say, ‘They’re nothing we can do, there’s mandatory sentences.’

We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes.  And that’s one of them.  I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong.

But I just believe criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, and that kind of thing, it’s costing us a fortune.  And it’s ruining young people.  Young people go in as youths and they come out as hardened criminals and it’s not a good thing.

For the record, Walter Cronkite himself also had a Cronkite moment about the drug interdiction campaign, publishing a scathing commentary in 2006.

I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.

But on this subject, Robertson is the man with the more potential to shake the status quo.

It has long been claimed — perhaps apocryphally — that after Cronkite’s 1968 broadcast, Lyndon Johnon said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

President Barack Obama and Congress should acknowledge the same now.  If the war on drugs has lost Pat Robertson, it’s time to acknowledge that the country is ready for something new.

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27 Comments on “The war on drugs has a Cronkite moment”

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  1. Hank says:

    Excellent blog, Brian! Thank you.

  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Look under the Christmas Blog Tree! Santa Brian left liberals a wonderful gift.

  3. Pete Klein says:

    Merry Christmas, the birthday of the Prince of Peace.
    A good time to remember all wars lead to pain and suffering.
    The war on poverty, the war on terror, the war on drugs, all are failures except for those who make a buck off of them.
    One might ask why everything in America has to be defined as a war.
    But of all the wars we fee the need to wage, the war on drugs is the most senseless and doomed to eternal failure.

  4. Bret4207 says:

    It’s not the couple of joints that’s the problem. It’s the addicts stealing, leaving their families, hurting other people to get their fix. It’s sad, frustrating and legalizing everything just avoids the base issue- addiction to dangerous drugs. I’m not foolish enough to believe imprisoning addicts and users is the answer, but if we don’t mandate treatment ( at probably a lower overall cost than prison in the end). if we don’t discourage drug addiction and alcohol addiction, then we’ll end up with a nation of addicts. Who pays for their addiction? The rest of us.

    Decriminalize what you will, but you still need to mandate treatment.

  5. oa says:

    Just as long as you don’t mandate insurance to pay for the treatment.

    PS-Not a Cronkite moment. Pat Robertson has long done business in the weird, quasi-drug world of dietary supplements (See: Pat Robertson’s Diet Shake and his advocacy of 7-Keto-DHEA). “It’s all-natural, man.” So this isn’t really as surprising as you think, Brian.

  6. Gary White says:

    Wow ! Did I just feel a spark of like for Pat Robertson ?

  7. Mervel says:

    Merry Christmas all.

    Mandated treatment is much less expensive than Prison so indeed it should be paid for by government insurance; prisons are paid for by the government including the health care in those prisons. The problem is that treatment by its very nature does not usually work if it is mandated. Addicts get better when they decide they must get better, courts, family, jobs etc have no impact until the addict decides they want and need to do it.

    Demand for getting stoned, be it with alcohol or pot or coke is the problem in our society. We won’t have a happy, healthy or productive society if we are all addicts. It is a sign of hopelessness when a society becomes drug addled. We have a basic problem and I am not sure how to get at it; prisons and severe enforcement are not doing the job.

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Merry Christmas! (yes, even atheists say merry christmas)

    Okay, that said, Pete if you mean by “Prince of Peace” Jesus of Nazareth it isn’t really his birthday just his observed birthday…which seems really weird when so many people get so worked up about minutia in the Bible and whether it is true or isn’t. Anyway, whatever day it is I hope you non-orthodox sect Christians enjoyed the day and the spirit of the day.

    Bret remember supply and demand. A war on drugs and keeping them illegal increases the value drugs thereby making it expensive as a habit and driving addicts to commit crimes to support that habit. The ward on drugs also creates a motive for policing agencies to keep it going. Some officers succumb to the temptation of easy money and help the drug trade in various ways, and many policing departments make money to buy Dare cars and other cop stuff by selling impounded property. Treatment is important, though, no question.

  9. malcolm kyle says:

    If you support prohibition then you are NOT a conservative.
    Conservative principles, quite clearly, ARE:

    1) Limited, locally controlled government.
    2) Individual liberty coupled with personal responsibility.
    3) Free enterprise.
    4) A strong national defense.
    5) Fiscal responsibility.

    Prohibition is actually an authoritarian War on the Constitution and all civic institutions of our great nation.

    It’s all about the market and cost/benefit analysis. Whether any particular drug is good, bad, or otherwise is irrelevant! As long as there is demand for any mind altering substance, there will be supply; the end! The only affect prohibiting it has is to drive the price up, increase the costs and profits, and where there is illegal profit to be made criminals and terrorists thrive.

    The cost of criminalizing citizens who are using substances no more harmful than similar things that are perfectly legal like alcohol and tobacco, is not only hypocritical and futile, but also simply not worth the incredible damage it does.

    Afghani farmers produce approx. 93% of the world’s opium which is then, mostly, refined into street heroin then smuggled throughout Eastern and Western Europe.

    Both the Taliban and the terrorists of al Qaeda derive their main income from the prohibition-inflated value of this very easily grown crop, which means that Prohibition is the “Goose that laid the golden egg” and the lifeblood of terrorists as well as drug cartels. Only those opposed, or willing to ignore this fact, want things the way they are.

    See: How opium profits the Taliban:


    According to data gathered by privacy expert Christopher Soghoian (PhD candidate at Indiana University), 85-90% of real-time surveillance of your Internet communication is wasted on prohibition enforcement.
    youtube at
    – he discusses drug related Internet wiretaps at 5min 42sec

    Prohibition provides America’s sworn enemies with financial “aid” and tactical “comforts”. The Constitution of the United States of America defines treason as:
    “Article III / Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”

    Support for prohibition is therefor an act of treason against the Constitution, and a dire threat to the nation’s civic institutions.

    The Founding Fathers were not social conservatives who believed that citizens should be subordinate to any particular narrow religious moral order. That is what the whole concept of unalienable individual rights means, and sumptuary laws, especially in the form of prohibition, were something they continually warned about.

    It is way past time for us all to wise up and help curtail the dangerous expansions of federal police powers, the encroachments on individual liberties, and the increasing government expenditure devoted to enforcing the unworkable and dangerous policy of drug prohibition.

    To support prohibition you have to be either ignorant, stupid, brainwashed, insane or corrupt.

    * The US national debt has increased at an average rate of $3,000,000000 per day since 2006.
    * The unemployment rate has increased by 7300 per day since 2008.
    * The loss of manufacturing jobs has been 1400 per day since 2006.
    * Without the legalized regulation of opium products Afghanistan will continue to be a bottomless pit in which to throw countless billions of tax dollars and wasted American lives.
    * The hopeless situation in Afghanistan is helping to destabilize it’s neighbor, Pakistan, which is a country with nuclear weapons.
    * The mayhem in Mexico has deteriorated so badly that it’s bordering on farcical.

    There is nothing conservative about prohibition, which enlists the most centralized state power in displacement of domestic and community roles. There is everything authoritarian and subversive about this policy which has incinerated American traditions such as Freedom and Federalism with its puritanical flames. Any person seeking to insure and not further compromise the safety of their family and of their neighbors must not only repudiate prohibition but help spearhead its abolition.

    Narcotics police are an enormous, corrupt international bureaucracy … and now fund a coterie of researchers who provide them with ‘scientific support’ … fanatics who distort the legitimate research of others. … The anti-marijuana campaign is a cancerous tissue of lies, undermining law enforcement, aggravating the drug problem, depriving the sick of needed help, and suckering well-intentioned conservatives and countless frightened parents.
– William F. Buckley,
Commentary in The National Review, April 29, 1983, p. 495

    We will always have adults who are too immature to responsibly deal with tobacco, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, various prescription drugs, gambling and even food. Our answer to them should always be: “Get a Nanny, and stop turning the government into one for the rest of us!”

  10. just say no says:

    the drive behind drug use is a little deeper than a manifestation of a society’s or a civilization’s fellings of hopelessness, merv.

    alcohol, specifically wine making and the cultivation of grapes, was the main reason why we as a species stopped nomadic wanderings and started civilization, not hopelessness.

    psychedelics have been found to be used by primitive man and i venture a guess it was for expansion of self awareness rather than desperation.

    the fact of the way our dodpamine receptors work (lock and key) insist that we are wired to recieve specific chemical compounds like thc. coincidence?

  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Malcolm one small correction…the unstable condition of Pakistan and it’s on-going hot and cold war with India has led to the hopeless situation in Afghanistan.

  12. oa says:

    I thought it was unconstitutional to mandate people have insurance, so shouldn’t it be unconstitutional to mandate insurance for mandated drug treatment? Ize confoozed.

  13. Mervel says:

    just say no, I would disagree; substance abuse addiction is in the end about darkness. It does no good to sugar coat the whole thing; just work with and around addicts and their families and children and you will see and really understand the carnage that abuse causes in our society from domestic abuse to child abuse and neglect to suicide and in the end death. It’s about escape and about escaping from relationships and love. I am not talking about the occasional user or the college party or moderation. I am talking about addiction.
    Malcom the fact is we have less death and addiction because of prohibition. The question is what are the costs of prohibition and they are very high particularly for drugs that are less harmful such as pot. I am in the middle on this issue but the US is already a stoner nation and if we went to all out legalization of all substances nothing good would happen to our society it would increase the use of harder drugs. Many people would indeed try and become addicted to harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin that would not have become addicted if the drugs had remained illegal.

  14. Mervel says:

    oa they will just sign them up for medicaid. That is what they do in the North Country in general when they mandate treatment. Somebody has to pay for it and it really is cheaper than prison. But I don’t think mandated treatment works at least from what I have seen.

    Most of the time its social services and they come in and say look you want to be a doper fine; but then we are going to take your children away. If you go to treatment we might let you see your children some day but if not fine they are gone. So people go.

  15. Bret4207 says:

    Malcolm, each of us has their pets peeves, it takes nothing away from our overall view. The difference between the modern definition of a libertarian and a conservative generally revolves around the drug issue.

    Justsayno- “expansion of self awareness rather than desperation.”??? More likely it was a way to get stoned, period.

    oa- I never said mandate treatment under insurance. I said mandate treatment. It’s less expensive to put a willing participant in an inpatient treatment program for a month or 2 than in prison for a couple years. I would think anyone could grasp that.

  16. Pete Klein says:

    The real problem here is the idea that passing a law, any law, will solve a problem. You may want to be on record as being opposed to this, that or the other thing but that will not make it go away.
    People have been against murder, rape and robbery even before there were governments making the acts illegal but the acts have continued.
    You can have all the laws you want and all things illegal will continue to exist.
    P.S. I am against all mandates. I’ll even go so far as to state I don’t believe any level of education should be required by law. If you want to be stupid, it should be your right. It would be stupid not to get some level of education but, if you look around, no amount of education can cure some people from being stupid. On the other hand, some people with very little education are smarter than some with several degrees.

  17. oa says:

    This thread is proof that most of the North Country is high.
    Pat Robertson? Really?

  18. Mervel says:

    Haha I don’t know about most of the North Country. I do know that St. Lawrence County has a major problem with addiction particularly with Opiates (oxy etc.), heroin, crack and crystal. We have people breaking into pharmacies, murders and armed robberies all related to drug addiction and the desperation it creates, not your normal small town activities but not uncommon right now. We just finished a murder trial that was basically a look at the crack subculture in the big O’burg.
    Legalizing this stuff would not change any of those problems and would only increase the number of junkies we have trying to find ways to pay for getting high.

  19. Bret4207 says:

    St Lawrence Co has no drug problem Mervel. Just keep chanting it over and over and over and over…..

  20. Pete Klein says:

    The robberies and murders have more to do with the cost of drugs than the drugs themselves. None of these drugs would cost any where near as much if they were legal. Also, because they are illegal, people will do just about anything, including murder, to avoid being arrested and sent to jail. Add in the practical reality whereby you can’t go to the police and complain someone stole your drugs or your drug money and the dealers are forced to run their own criminal justice system which includes murder.
    How much do you think Mary Jane is actually worth? It’s worth about as much as cigarettes would cost if you took away the criminal taxes the state and federal governments impose. Maybe about 50 cents a pack. How many robberies or murders would take place if Mary Jane or cigarettes were to cost 50 cents a pack?

  21. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    It’s not as if there aren’t any other tested and proven models in the world on how to deal with drug addiction. There has been some success in Europe with alternative methods besides prohibition. Whether that be with marijuana, opiates, etc….

    The problem here in America is the same as it’s been since Nixon created the “war on drugs.” The profit incentive for the too long entrenched interests who benefit from the status quo. Whether that be organized crime, drug cartels, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies who depend on drug interdiction funding, or chicken sh*t politicians afraid to advocate alternatives to our current failed policies who at the same time think a “tough on crime” approach might garner them some votes.

  22. Mervel says:

    I think there is some truth in that.

    I just think that we will have to deal with drug addiction and its consequences either through prevention and treatment or deal with it through prohibition and incarceration or some combination of both. The idea that we are just going to legalize drugs and walk away is stupid. The fact is if we legalize harder drugs the expense of treating increased addiction, treating the increased chronic illness addiction causes and taking care of the families that are destroyed by new addicts will all increase.

    The deeper issue is why so many people become addicts; why this is such a larger problem in some countries such as the US than it is in other countries. Even with drugs being illegal, even with prohibition we are a major world consumer of drugs, imagine how much we will consume when it is cheap and legal.

    The fact is people use less nicotine because ciggs are close to $10.00 per pack, people drive drunk less because we now put people in jail for this serious offense, enforcement and price increases do work in deterring activity.

  23. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I’m addicted to this blog. Help! I need an intervention!

  24. Bret4207 says:

    Clap, there have been more massive failures in Europe than successes. Legalizing intoxicants with addictive qualities just leads to problems.

  25. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    I disagree, Bret. We already have massive problems with intoxicants being illegal. And they seem to be getting worse as witnessed with the rampant violence and crime along our borders here as well as with Mexico. Not to mention the billions we spend annually arresting, prosecuting, and jailing small time users. And the “blowback” we receive from our paramilitary forces, er, I mean DEA, practically invading other countries in the name of “The War on Drugs.” Clearly we need another approach. I guess success is in the eyes of the beholder as I’m not just referring to “legalization” but also to the very successful needle exchange, regulated supply, and treatment programs offered to hard core drugs users in Europe.

  26. Mervel says:

    We need to look at all of those things. A new approach is needed no doubt about it. I do think though that the new approach will still include some drugs being illegal and some drug dealing being illegal. The libertarian fantasy of all drugs being legal would be extremely harmful and that is why no country has gone down that route, even the most liberal European countries still have illegal drugs.

    Oxycontin is a legal drug, but you still have to control it and prescribe it in the right way and you can still go to jail for dealing it as people should. I think we need strong programs right now to work with people who are addicted and want to get off but can’t afford to go to treatment or can’t find treatment centers that have any openings.

  27. Bret4207 says:

    Clap, I’ve read numerous reports of major issues in the Scandinavian countries, Holland, parts of Germany, etc. having real problems with addiction and the costs and crime. I’m talking main stream news sources, not NewsMax or some hole in the wall blog site. In fact, IIFC some stories were on NPR. Closer to home CFJR in Ottawa had quite a lot of stories on the issue of their drug kits being ahnded out in the city and the large number of used needles littering playgrounds, etc. that it caused. Common sense says if you have a large population of addicts that can’t function then you’ll have a huge drain on social services to keep them alive or a huge crime problem or both. I don’t see how legalizing things will help. Decriminalizing some quantities I can see and mandating treatment for first or second time offenders I can see. Paying for treatment is cheaper than putting them in prison and losing them for life.

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