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November 12, 2011

Presidential Debates, Ripple Effects, and Unintended Consequences

The first decisive TV moment in a presidential campaign took place in 1960 when Richard Nixon’s inattention to make-up and other details made him look untrustworthy. There is now general agreement that the then-unfamiliar debate format portrayed John Kennedy as more youthful and confident and thus helped him win a close decision over a more experienced opponent who was probably in better health. Because Kennedy was assassinated near the end of his first term,we will never know how long he might have lived (or how he might have handled Vietnam); but Nixon survived to the relatively ripe old age of eighty-one.

It's also likely that an innate distrust of the electorate intensified by that narrow 1960 defeat helped persuade Nixon to gamble on the risky Watergate caper that would blight his second term and ultimately force his resignation; the only president ever to endure such disgrace. It's also probable that his fear of being judged by history as the "loser" of the intrinsically hopeless Vietnam war he'd inherited from his predecessors is what motivated his ploy of "Vietnamization:" the gradual withdrawal of American ground troops while compensating for their lost firepower by bombing (and destabilizing) Laos and Cambodia.

We can now appreciate that Nixon’s poor decisions and subsequent fall from grace had enormous consequences for both America and the world at large. For one thing, thousands of avoidable deaths and injuries of Laotians and Cambodians are still beinginflcted by unexploded ordnance forty years later. Beyond that, there has been a loss of trust engendered by our continuing refusal to sign on to an international ban on land mines.

Even more delayed ripple effects and unforeseen international consequences have been produced by the gradual evolution of an ill-considered domestic policy that started when the Harrison Narcotic Act was signed by one Democratic President (Woodrow Wilson) in 1914 and further complicated by another (Franklin Roosevelt) who signed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Although always a failure, America's policy of drug prohibition had remained relatively affordable because the illegal markets it gave rise to remained small until the Sixties when the largest generation in history suddenly developed an unprecedented enthusiasm for "marijuana" and several newly discovered psychedelics within a few years.

Unfortunately that youthful discovery also coincided with Nixon's first term in office. After the Marijuana Tax Act was declared unconstitutional, his immediate response was to persuade fellow Watergate conspirator John Mitchell to draft the far more punitive Controlled substances Act, thus converting a relatively minor policy error into a costly global folly, one still actively pursued by the US Federal Government and the United Nations forty years later. That it's still taken seriously and aggressively enforced despite its enormous expense total lack of success is incomprehensible. It's also a sad commentary on the quality of human political thinking.

The Beat Generation was a small literary movement that gained sudden notoriety in the Fifties. What make the Beats critical to the expansion of a silly drug policy into a catastrophic drug war is that they were were the first whites to try both cannabis and psychedelics and write about their experiences in positive terms. Although those descriptions were largely ignored or discounted by the establishment, they had an huge impact on youthful baby boomers who became so turned on that they frightened Nixon's silent Majority into declaring a "war on drugs" that had even less likelihood of success than his strategy in Vietnami.

To compound the folly, it's now quite clear (although not yet understood) that cannabis, in both its inhaled and edible forms, is so uniquely potent and safe that the greatest damage done by the war against it may not be the millions of arrests and the expansion of our prison system it produced, but the prolonged denial of its benefits to mankind.

A big hint about those benefits: there may be no better palliative than inhaled cannabis for the symptoms of PTSD now attracting increasing attention in our over-crowded and relentlessly competitive modern world.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at November 12, 2011 11:44 PM