Prison for you, but not for me

Posted: Jun 21, 2006 12:05 AM

Our elected officials say they are just like the rest of us. But that's a myth.

"The king can do no wrong" is often closer to the truth.

Consider drug use. In 1992, when presidential candidate Bill Clinton was asked about his, he said, "I have never broken the laws of my country." It was one of those lawyerly language tricks, which was revealed when a reporter later asked him about laws in other countries.

"I have never broken a state law," he said. "When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it and didn't inhale."

There was a smirk on his face; it was clear drug use was no big deal to him. Remember when he played the sax on TV? What got him the biggest laugh that night was talking about smoking dope: "That's how I learned to inhale, by playing my saxophone," he said, grinning. "You blow out and then you have to inhale." Everyone applauded.

What fun. His vice president, Al Gore, did drugs, too -- "as a student, a few times in the army" -- and so did other officials, like former Senator Bill Bradley and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Our current president simply admitted to "mistakes" in his youth, and his father, George H.W. Bush, when asked if he had ever smoked grass, replied, "No, but I'd hate to speak for my kids."

It's something to chuckle about. After all, more than 30 million Americans have tried cocaine, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use. Ninety million Americans have used marijuana at least once. "It is not a big deal," said Bill Clinton.

But if it's no big deal, why did he and his vice president push for tougher drug laws with longer jail time, and why are we arresting more people than ever, more than 1.5 million Americans a year, on drug charges? The biggest category of arrest is possession of marijuana. We arrest more people for marijuana than for rape, robbery, murder, and aggravated assault combined. Eight out of ten drug arrests are just for possession -- for exactly what the politicians admitted to doing. Ha ha. We'll smoke grass and joke about it, but you, we'll lock up. Hypocrites.

The hypocrisy also comes out when their friends and family get caught.

Likely 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, R-Ariz., has advocated tougher drug laws, but in the early 1990s, his wife, Cindy, stole Percocet and Vicodin from a charity. She was not prosecuted. Percocet and Vicodin are Schedule II drugs, in the same legal category as opium. Each pill theft carries a penalty of one year in prison and a monetary fine. But Mrs. McCain entered a pretrial diversion program and escaped without a criminal record.

The son of Duke "Death Penalty for Drug Kingpins" Cunningham, R-Calif., was convicted for possession of 400 pounds of marijuana. Mother Jones reported that in court, the congressman cried and pleaded for mercy, explaining that his son "has a good heart. He works hard." The congressman -- who denounced "soft-on-crime liberal judges" and railed against "reduced mandatory-minimum sentences for drug trafficking" (and who himself is now in prison for taking bribes) -- won for his son the mercy he fought to deny others: half the federal "mandatory" minimum sentence.

All too often, officials protect themselves and their families from the punishments they set up for the rest of us. Using drugs might be a crime for you, but it's a joke for someone named Bush or Clinton.

Our rulers make laws to control and punish you and your family for doing the very acts they flaunted in their youth.

Smoking pot is not a big deal. If the politicians have enough common sense to know that their lives shouldn't be ruined over a little drug use, they should also have enough common decency to recognize that neither should anyone else's.