Newt Gingrich, Drug Warrior Extraordinaire

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

While drug war realist Gary Johnson can’t get invited to the debates, and fellow realist Ron Paul got all of 90 seconds to say his piece last time around, Newt Gingrich has  inexplicably risen to the top of the polls in the GOP primary. It’s worth reviewing again just how God-awful Gingrich has been on the drug war over the years.

Over at TalkLeft, Jeralyn Merritt notes that Gingrich once introduced a bill mandating the death penalty for drug smugglers. Gingrich’s bill would have required execution for anyone attempting to bring 2 ounces or more of pot into the country. Merritt also reminds us of this shameless, astonishingly stupid attempt to justify his policies with his own drug use:

“See, when I smoked pot it was illegal, but not immoral. Now, it is illegal AND immoral. The law didn’t change, only the morality… That’s why you get to go to jail and I don’t.”*

There’s much more. In 2009, Gingrich agreed with Bill O’Reilly’s call for Singapore-style drug laws in America. In Singapore, the police can force anyone to submit to a urinalysis without a warrant. They’re permitted to search you without a warrant. And if you’re seen in a building or in the company of drug users, you’re assumed to have been using drugs as well, unless you can prove otherwise. They also have Gingrich’s favored mandatory execution of anyone possessing over a specified amount of illicit drugs. (And there’s little evidence that the policies are working.)

A few other choice moments from Gingrich’s drug war files:

  • “…I met with General McCaffrey two months ago and said, ‘I want a World War Two style victory plan-a decisive, all out cataclysmic effort to break the back of the drug culture’.” (Source)
  • The announcement of the Republican drug strategy last week came with set of sound bites produced by the “Speaker’s Task Force for a Drug Free America.” A memorandum to participants in the kick-off urged them to incorporate and emphasize war-sounding “communication ideas.” Some of the specific phrases the Speaker urged were: epidemic, crisis, scourge, poison, mobilize, modern-day plague, front lines, call to arms, deployment, battle plan, attack, fight, engage, conquer and declare victory. The theme was to have “A real War on Drugs; Not a war of words but a war of action.” Their goal is a drug free America by 2002. These militaristic slogans were justified by a backdrop of children. (Source)
  • President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich sparred over drug policy in separate radio addresses Saturday, the president laying out plans to reduce illegal drug use by 50 percent in the next decade, the speaker ridiculing the proposal as a “hodgepodge of half-steps and half- truths.” Gingrich said he will press a resolution in the House urging Clinton and White House drug policy chief Barry McCaffrey to withdraw the plan, which he described as “the definition of failure.””In the Civil War it took just four years to save the Union and abolish slavery,” Gingrich scoffed.  He said World War II was won four years after the United States joined the Allied cause, and yet Clinton’s new drug-fighting schedule prescribes more than twice that long.”This president would have us believe that with all of the resources, ingenuity, dedication and passion of the American people, we can’t even get halfway to victory in the war on drugs until the year 2007 – nine full years from now,” the speaker said. “That is not success. That is the definition of failure. … We cannot accept this administration’s proposed timetable for defeat.” (Source)
  • Speaking before the National Religious Broadcasters in Washington, Gingrich said he hopes to eradicate the drug problem by Jan. 1, 2001. The end result would mean “such an amazingly healthier society,” he said. “That would be a vastly greater achievement than the balanced budget.”Talking specifics, Gingrich is proposing a mandatory life prison term for those who cross borders with or produce commercial quantities of illegal drugs. He would also like to see the death sentence imposed for repeat offenders. “If you sell it, we’re going to kill you,” he warned.  (Source)
  • House Republicans, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich and his newly-created “Speakers’ Task Force for a Drug-Free America” chaired by J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), unveiled a “comprehensive, World War II-style” drug war legislative package on Thursday. Details of the package will be presented to the public over an eight-week period at a series of orchestrated media events complete with blue ribbon-wearing participants….The package, which will include at least a dozen separate pieces of legislation, is being compared by House Republican staffers to the 1994 “Contract With America,” both in its scope and its intended centrality to the election-year message of the party.  While much of the legislation is still being written, the bills will range from largely symbolic . . . to overtly war-like, such as the reinstitution and expansion of military deployments on the US side of our national borders. The stated goal of the Republican package is to “win” the drug war by creating a “drug-free” America in four years. Longer sentences, the death penalty, technological upgrades in interdiction and federal law enforcement, a doubling of the border patrol and incentives for expanded work-place drug testing will also be addressed. (Source)
  • “The first time we execute 27 or 30 or 35 people at one time, and they go around Colombia and France and Thailand and Mexico, and they say, `Hi, would you like to carry some drugs into the U.S.?’ the price of carrying drugs will have gone up dramatically,” says Gingrich, who has admitted to smoking pot.  (Source)

Of course, if Gingrich somehow miraculously gets the nomination, his opponents will be Obama, who is every bit the hypocrite Gingrich is, and Biden, who may be one of just a few career politicians at the federal level whose legislative record is worse than Gingrich’s.

*MORE/UPDATE/CORRECTION: I somehow missed this Jacob Sullum post from last year suggesting that this Gingrich quote may be apocryphal, though Gingrich has definitely admitted to smoking pot in graduate school.

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36 Responses to “Newt Gingrich, Drug Warrior Extraordinaire”

  1. #1 |  Z | 

    I’m going to guess that you don’t like Gingrich.

  2. #2 |  AMB | 

    Is there an original citation for that Gingrich quote re: pot’s immorality? I totally agree with your point, but that quote sounds fishy. Quote simply, it sounds WAY too stupid a thing for a self-aware adult to say, much less someone with as bright a reputation as Gingrich. It’s a completely idiotic statement on a number of levels.

    Some Googling turns up a few poor citations to a Hilary Stout article in the 8/8/1996 Wall Street Journal, but I can’t find a copy of that article anywhere on the Intertubes.

    Anyone else have any better luck?

  3. #3 |  Rick H. | 

    AMB: Yeah, that sounds more like an opponent paraphrasing an implied justification for Gingrich’s incredible hypocrisy than an actual quote from the scumbag himself.

  4. #4 |  Michael | 

    Yeah, I had the same results with that quote. I’m surprised to hear explicit moral relativism from the GOP.

  5. #5 |  Nate | 

    The Talkleft article attributes it as: August 8, 1996, Wall Street Journal

  6. #6 |  Newt Gingrich on the issues - Page 27 - INGunOwners | 

    […] Back on the OP….we have a piece by Indiana's own, Radley Balko taking a look at one of the major reasons I will never cast a vote for Gingrich. His stance on the war on drugs is abominable and I have seen nothing to make me think that he's changed his stance on it. Executing people for having as little as 2 ounces of pot on them? Escalating a lost "war"? This stance alone, and it's intended and unintended consequences makes him unelectable. He wants to start a real war within the boundaries of this country, and if he thinks it wouldn't end in shooting he's insane. He's not what we need at this time, or any other time. He's a long time supporter of big government and has no intention of making things better. Newt Gingrich, Drug Warrior Extraordinaire | The Agitator […]

  7. #7 |  Hexag1 | 

    Good to know.

    One thing Radley. I don’t age that Obama is ‘every bit the hypocrite’ that Gingrich is. It’s one thing to do drugs in youth and then become a drug warrior later on. It’s one thing to promise reform and then renege. It’s quite another to do these things and then try to institute the death penalty for drugs., and then complain about ‘ right wing social engineering’.

  8. #8 |  Bruce | 

    Unfortunately, of all the quotes you published above, the one most likely to cause trouble for Gingrich with some elements of the Republicans* is this one:

    ”In the Civil War it took just four years to save the Union and abolish slavery”

    Since of course the Civil War was about the preservation of “states rights”, the “wrong side” won, and slavery was a minor side issue.

    *primarily the ones whose parents were yellow-dog Democrats

  9. #9 |  More Freedom and Decentralization Is the Answer (but apparently, no one is listening), and more… » Scott Lazarowitz's Blog | 

    […] Radley Balko: Newt Gingrich, Drug Warrior Extraordinaire […]

  10. #10 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    •“The first time we execute 27 or 30 or 35 people at one time, and they go around Colombia and France and Thailand and Mexico, and they say, `Hi, would you like to carry some drugs into the U.S.?’ the price of carrying drugs will have gone up dramatically,” says Gingrich, who has admitted to smoking pot. (Source)

    Sure Mr. Gingrich. And the U.S. would also continue it’s quest to become more like China or some other recognized police state. When do the executions stop Newt? When we “win?” Gingrich is an asshole and a hypocrite. Unfortunately, these seem to be prerequisites to hold political office in “the land of the free.”

  11. #11 |  Newt Gingrich and The War On Drugs « The Blog For Truth, Justice, & The Josh Way | 

    […] obviously not the only one troubled with Gingrich’s new-found popularity. Radley Balko has a great post, covering these same points but with more detail and eloquence than I. Like this:LikeBe the first […]

  12. #12 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Another Fascist asshole, Newt is not the answer for America. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail one of the charges against the witch was that she turned me into a newt, but I got better. It is extremely doubtful there is that hope for Gingrich.

  13. #13 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    How is it that all of a sudden Newt is near the top of the pack? Wasn’t he considered a non-entity earlier? Oh yeah that right, that’s back when Perry was considered to be The One.

    Next up it was Cain, at least until his past caught up with him (or so we are told)

    And now here comes Newt. Meet the new boss…

    Call me a conspiracy nut if it makes you feel better but I’m having a very difficult time believing that ANY of this election circus is in any way open and honest. We are being fed a pile of crap from all sides and the only person that (IMO) is worthy of the Office of The President is Ron Paul, which is why he is being ignored.

    I can’t get that old George Carlin routine about the ‘owners’ out of my head.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If voting could REALLY change things, it would be illegal.

  14. #14 |  Just Plain Brian | 

    I’m having a very difficult time believing that ANY of this election circus is in any way open and honest.

    I’m not sure this one is any different from the others previous.

  15. #15 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Gingrich is a hypocrite on drug use? Shocking, considering how morally consistent he is on the sanctity of marriage, waste and corruption at Freddie Mac, and the other issues he’s so outspoken on.

  16. #16 |  MassHole | 

    The GOP doesn’t want to win.

  17. #17 |  JohnJ | 

    Well, if you don’t like someone, it’s perfectly acceptable to fabricate quotes from them (or popularize false quotes that someone else fabricates.) I’m getting less and less enthused about Balko’s reporting given how unreliable his reporting is concerning the Republican candidates. This is a real shame since so much of his other reporting is so good.

  18. #18 |  JOR | 

    #17, While the quote may indeed be fabricated (or more likely, someone’s snarky paraphrasing of something Gingrich actually said), Balko has admitted and corrected for the possible error. I say the statement is probably a hostile paraphrase because the idea that it expresses is not very different from what conservatives often actually believe. Yes, they rail against ‘relativism’ without having any clue what it is, but they are arch-relativists themselves (conservatism has its roots in relativism). Out of all the quotes Balko posted, only one is (possibly) fabricated, and while it is the most overtly stupid, it is not the most damning.

  19. #19 |  JohnJ | 

    I don’t like the idea of attacking anti-drug laws as hypocritical. I’ve never used any illegals drugs (including pot), but that doesn’t mean that my enforcement of drug laws would be any better than anyone else’s. The problem isn’t that most politicians have done drugs. The problem is that drug laws don’t work. That should be the focus.

  20. #20 |  Doubleu | 

    It’s worth reviewing again just how God-awful Gingrich has been on the drug war over the years.

  21. #21 |  Doubleu | 

    Dang… it took the html out of my comment.
    You don’t need “on the drug war over the years.” in the sentence above.

  22. #22 |  Jer | 

    @JohnJ: Good point. I’ve always facepalm’d when a politician talks about getting tough on drugs after they admitted to drug use, but it’s not the reason I oppose drug laws. It’s like all the people who complain about the Airport Body Scanners causing cancer. Who cares? I’m sure most people do things that cause cancer much more frequently than walking through the scanners. Like smoking cigarettes or getting burned to a crisp every summer. The much more important thing here is that body scanning is dead wrong and unconstitutional.

  23. #23 |  Jeffrey Hall | 

    “…I met with General McCaffrey two months ago and said, ‘I want a World War Two style victory plan-a decisive, all out cataclysmic effort to break the back of the drug culture’.”

    Remind me: we won World War Two by shooting enemy soldiers, not our own citizens, right?

  24. #24 |  Joey Maloney | 

    There’s nothing “inexplicable” about Newt’s (temporary) rise in the polls. He’s the latest not-Romney, that’s all.

    Look, it’s simple. The Republican establishment wants Romney because a) he’s an amoral scion of undeserved wealth just like them and b) it’s his turn. But the Republican base doesn’t trust him because of his self-evident lack of any sort of moral compass; they want one whose needle is pinned at “batshit insane” and Romney just isn’t convincing enough.

    So they’re rotating through each not-Romney. But since it’s not about policy as such, but personality and willingness to mouth the proper tribal slogans, each not-Romney is highly vulnerable to media ridicule, where in this case “ridicule” is defined as “accurate reporting of the candidate’s past statements.”

    Romney’s going to be the last man standing, if for no other reason than he has practically limitless personal funds to keep his campaign going. The Republican base will be vociferous in their hatred until approximately 0.0007 milliseconds after he wins the nominating vote at the convention. From then on it’ll be all Kenyan Muslimofascistcommienazi, all the time, straight through to November.

  25. #25 |  JOR | 

    #19, I completely agree with that. I think hypocrisy in general is a really lame thing to complain about. If someone’s behavior is contemptible, it is so, whether or not they talk a different talk. It’s not as if one should think better of people who indulge in evil out of pure malice, ignorance, or stupidity rather than showing some sign that they know better. At least a hypocrite might possibly have a conscience that can be appealed to.

    But in the case of a drug warrior who once used drugs hypocrisy is an even lamer thing to attack, because there’s nothing wrong per se with drug use. It’s the talk they’re talking that’s objectionable. Would that their spirit were as weak as their flesh.

    That’s why I say that the possibly fake/apocryphal quote is actually the least damning thing about Gingrich in Radley’s post, and would be even if the quote were Gingrich’s exact words.

  26. #26 |  JOR | 

    Well, except I don’t agree with this: “The problem is that drug laws don’t work.”

    One, I think drug laws would be wrong even if they worked, just like, say, laws mandating the ritual sacrifice of the first born in time of war or natural disaster would be wrong, even if people actually followed them.

    Two, I think drug laws work perfectly well at their intended function, even though they fail at their stated function. And they could easily be made to work at their stated function, given enough political will. Executing people for possession or use of drugs will nearly end drug use in a country, by killing the users if not by means of terror. Given that this is probably politically possible in America, it’s likely that the actual end being pursued is not really drug prohibition itself.

  27. #27 |  Fascist Nation | 

    I remember reading Newt’s first book(?) in 1995(?) after the Republican Revolution took over CONgress with Newt in charge.

    I was struck by how a guy could talk (write actually) out of one side of his mouth on American’s personal liberty and freedom in one chapter. Then in the next chapter justify killing and imprisoning people along with destroying their and their family’s lives over their voluntary choice to imbibe whatever into their own bodies.

    Hypocrisy knows no bounds from our rulers.

  28. #28 |  renzo | 

    re: JOR

    I don’t think that the political will exists in the USA for the execution of all drug users to be possible, actually.

    I don’t think that countries which aggressively prosecute drug wars primarily do so because the order comes down from the state, either…southeast Asia prosecutes it’s “drug war” in the way it does of it’s culture vis-a-vis drugs and it’s history, for example China’s involvment with the British and opium. I think the actions of the state reflect that.

    The belief of anyone in government that the state can effectively just liquidate drugs/drug traffickers from “on high” is ridiculous and delusional. Calderon’s government isn’t failing to end the cartels because they haven’t put enough Mexican marines on the streets, or they haven’t shot enough people, it’s failing because Mexico’s political system has been mired in corruption for many decades, and drugs are just what that systemic corruption is being channeled into at the moment. Although I agree with the point that the war on drugs really isn’t about ending the drug trade.

  29. #29 |  JCV | 

    Drug laws should never have been enacted in the first place. After all, the only thing we humans truly own in our lives is ourselves – our neurochemistry and our synaptic network collectively form our consciousness. Wether or not harmful or non-harmful drugs are legal or not is irrelevant. To strip someone the ability to manipulate their own neurochemistry is a fundamental violation of personal sovereignty and is one of the most culturally repressive acts that can be undertaken. Newt himself said he wants to deliver a deathblow to the ‘drug culture’. What he’s talking about is clearly cultural genocide. Last year in the united states there were at least 46 million cannabis users. Can you imagine a pile of 46 million bodies? Even stalin would stand in shock and awe.

    How can the united states be a bastion of freedom and a mixing pot of culture when we have leaders who selectively decide which cultures thrive and which do not. How can we be the land of the free when we are not even free to explore our innermost sanctums?

    We aren’t. And they don’t want us to be free. It has nothing to do with science or harm reduction. It is purely about suppression and profiting off of said suppression.

  30. #30 |  Steve Verdon | 

    But don’t forget to vote, because it matters and it is important….

  31. #31 |  Newt Gingrich: Drug test everybody, Singapore-style - INGunOwners | 

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  33. #33 |  The GOP’s dream candidate . . . for the Democrats « Quotulatiousness | 

    […] Radley Balko reminds us that Newt is a huge hypocrite on drug policy, […]

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