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.