Anti-drug ad campaign is anti-democratic

Since the initial shock of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dissipated, American companies have been playing on patriotic sentiment to make money. Politicians have also been making patriotic appeals for political gain, and none more deftly than President George W. Bush. Now the Bush White House, through its Office of National Drug Control Policy, has initiated a new anti-drug advertising campaign that represents the most egregious exploitation of fears of terrorism.

The advertisements first appeared during the Super Bowl and subsequently on television and in more than 250 newspapers.

Using slogans such as, “Yesterday afternoon, I did my laundry, went for a run and helped torture someone’s dad,” the advertisements seek to call attention to the graphic nature of terrorism and form a link between terrorism and drug purchasing that is tenuous at best. They prey on guilt and fear in an effort to change behavior. That the government has resorted to fear to enact policy is part of a disturbing trend in the Bush administration. Last year, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Americans opposing the war on terrorism were themselves aiding the terrorists. This adversarial mentality administration officials have adopted with their own constituents is not only improper but also anti-democratic.

The government’s goal of reducing drug use is an important one and should be continued within proper boundaries. For more than 10 years, the ONDCP has been losing the war on drugs. Billions of dollars have been spent by a plethora of government agencies in efforts to fight this war. Most of the efforts have sought to stem the flow of drugs in the United States. The Clinton White House recognized the futility of this tactic and began efforts to reduce demand for illegal narcotics in the United States.

But associating drug use with terrorist activity is a wholly inappropriate way to reduce drug use. The Bush White House cites evidence linking major terrorist organizations to drug trafficking. But the real plague of drugs on American society is their destruction of communities within the United States. Efforts to reduce demand for drugs must include educating children about the dangers of drugs. They must include programs to help addicts receive treatment for their disease. They must include programs to rebuild communities devastated by local crime resulting from drug use and sales.

There is an abundance of reasons to fight the war on drugs. And there is an abundance of ways the government should go about fighting this war that are different than the failed methods of the past. But by trying to control U.S. citizens by scaring or blaming them into submission, the administration becomes no better than the tyrannical countries we oppose.