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June 20, 2011

More on Mitchell

The discovery that John Mitchell had been the author of the CSA was an important milestone on my journey toward understanding how a policy as invidious as the War on Drugs could have become so dominant in a nation (and World) that had struggled through a two World Wars to make it “Safe for Democracy.” I had also come to see the drug war in a larger context: as metaphor for understanding how various follies have been diverting our species from what should have been its main goal for at least several decades: survival.

Unfortunately there’s no way to sugar coat the main message of the drug war: it’s a cruel anomaly that began with a bad idea in the early Twentieth Century: namely, that criminal prohibitions should function as good public policy. That idea has somehow survived its many historical failures and is now accepted and enforced as global policy in a world that seems to be tearing itself apart at an ever-accelerating rate. As my own interest in the drug war has evolved since becoming an activist in 1995, its focus inevitably began changing as new evidence (information) has been gathered from applicants seeking to use cannabis legally.

Mitchell is important because of his role in critically shaping the course and direction of American drug policy while making it virtually impossible to change within a time frame that might allow its worst effects to be mitigated. In that respect, it is even worse than the fascist evil that led us into World War Two, a war in which Mitchell fought on the “right” side and was decorated for valor. Afterward, he became a successful lawyer specializing in municipal bonds, which is what he was doing when he met a bitterly insecure colleague named Richard Nixon who ended up at the same Wall Street firm after soaring close to the heights of national power as Vice President under a popular war hero only to be defeated in two close elections: first a cliffhanger for the Presidency in 1960 and then by a wider margin for Governor of California in 1962.

Ironically, the friendship that soon developed between the two lawyers would lead both to improbable success: the unsuccessful candidate would reach the heights of political power that had eluded him in 1960 and the municipal bond specialist would embark on an improbable journey from respectability to unsought political power as US Attorney General. Then he would resign as AG to head the new president’s re-election effort. Almost as an afterthought, he would persuade Nixon to focus on drug policy as the vehicle most likely to create the tough on crime image he so desired.

Tragically, the unexpected success that crowned their budding friendship would soon be undone when the insecurity-based hubris of the new president asserted itself in the form of twin ambitions; first to guarantee his re-election and second to avoid being labeled as the first American President to “lose” a war, thus setting the stage for the events that would characterize his unique tenure in the Oval Office: Watergate, the Drug War, Vietnamization, and Resignation. He would be critically assisted in seeking his devious goals by many; but none were more pivotal than two cabinet members he’d met only recently: John Mitchell and Henry Kissinger.

I now see Mitchell as most responsible for writing the opportunistic drug legislation that capitalized brilliantly on fears then just being aroused in the parents of Baby Boomers by their children's drug use and other shocking behaviors. Its rationale and wording would somehow endow the underlying policy with the powerful appeal it still retains four decades later: fear of addiction.

Whether Mitchell even realized the full implications of the CSA, let alone its long term impact, is unknown, More likely he saw it as one of the many favors he later may have regretted doing for his new friend. What is known is that both men suffered professional disgrace that would tarnish their memories years before they died.

We don't know what Mitchell thought of Nixon, but we do have a quote from his wife, Martha: "He (Nixon) bleeds people. He draws every drop of blood and then drops them from a cliff. He'll blame any person he can put his foot on."

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 20, 2011 06:47 PM