Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Congratulations to Barack Obama

As a college student at Wesleyan in '61 (or was it '62?) I joined with other white students to team with groups of black students from Howard University in an effort to integrate lunch counters in Glen Burnie, a suburb of Baltimore.  In some places we sat indefinitely without being served; in one, we were served coffee with salt in it; at another they locked the doors as we approached.  When we picketed the segregated local movie theatre, a mob of white men surrounded us as sheriffs watched.  A providential cloudburst scattered the crowd and allowed us to escape.  

On the night of election day in 1964, I arrived at the civil rights movement headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi, to begin a few months of volunteer work.  Nearly everyone was glued to the TV set to see whether the Democratic Party would seat the elected black delegates running under the banner of the Freedom Democratic Party.  The answer was, no.  

These and other memories came upwelling as I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama.   The party that wouldn't seat elected black delegates had nominated a black man for president.  A man whose father would not have been served at DC area restaurants 60 years ago was taking the oath of office.   Indeed, there has been some changes.

This morning's San Francisco Chronicle editorializes that Obama's new approach is "grounded in sobriety and hard work."  The "sobriety" that's meant here is, I assume, the metaphorical kind -- a pragmatic, realistic attitude -- and not the literal kind, meaning abstinence from alcoholic drink.  Yet there's a connection to reflect on, here.  

For me, personally, my time of active engagement in the civil rights movement was largely a time when my alcoholism (acquired in my freshman year in college) was in remission.  Engagement in life-changing work was hugely more interesting than drink.  My drinking habit only bloomed large during the years of reaction that followed, when it seemed that everything we had done was being undone.  Pessimism, despair, lack of hope were the atmosphere in which this illness flourished.  And I'm not the only one.  Is it an accident that the drug problem grew larger in rough proportion as conditions for the poor and middle class in America stagnated and deteriorated?  

Barack Obama's own history with alcohol and other drugs offers a refreshing contrast to that of his predecessor in office.  Obama has freely and openly admitted experimenting with drugs as a youth, but then stopped; he is trying to quit, or has quit, smoking.  What a contrast to the history of "W," whose claimed mid-life alcohol salvation story is widely believed to be a sham that covered up more than it revealed, notably a long history of cocaine use, some say.  

I've not yet seen anything in the way of Obama's statements so far that gives a clue to his specific policies on alcoholism and other addictions.  The federal government has many levers to pull and many dollars to spend in this area.  On general principles, I assume that Obama will support the recent extension of parity in the treatment of mental health and addiction treatment.  I assume that the federal agencies in this area will continue to be funded.  

The open questions in my mind are (a)  War on Drugs, and (b) Federal excise taxes on spirits and tobacco.  We need "change we can believe in" in the "war on drugs," a criminal exercise in hypocrisy and racial/economic persecution that is long overdue for radical reform.  An even more telling mark of Obama's mettle will be whether he supports Congressional action to raise the excise taxes on liquor and tobacco.  Public health advocates have long maintained that raising these taxes is the single most effective measure to reduce the social impact of these two most murderous addictive drugs.  Needless to say, the pillars of corporate greed stand deeply dug in on this issue.

The largest opening in the clouds under this new administration will be in the area of improving living standards and reducing inequities for the poor and middle class.  If the real and emotional environment of ordinary people in this country becomes infused with progress and hope, the problems of alcohol and other drugs will recede as if of their own accord.  It will take some time, but if the new administration succeeds in this largest and most difficult of goals, we will, in fact, see a new era of "sobriety" in both senses of the word.

Congratulations to President Barack Obama, and best wishes for the future.

P.S.  To date, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy remains under an interim head, Patrick Ward, a Bush appointee who has held the post a bit over a year.  Obama's choice of Rep. Jim Ramstad to become the new Drug Czar has run into heavy fire for Ramstad's ties to abusive "faith-based" programs, his policy positions on prevention, and his ties to a massive investor fraud.  Read Maia Szalavitz's blog blast and the Drug Policy Alliance editorial.  Ramstad is not change, he's MOTSOS.  


Anonymous said...

Barack Obama has never given us a full account of his drug usage. In fact about all he does is state that he used it. There are plenty of implications on the internet concerning his usage, and he has not replied to the accusations. But rather he has totally avoided answering any of the questions concerning those who were involved with him while using cocaine. So let's not build him up as the saint that the media portrays because he isn't a saint.And you're in denial big time.

dborla01 said...

I used to be a friend of the civil rights movement. Also former member of NAACP. I became very disillusioned by the Left's perversion of said movement and it's embrace of a totally secular/ socialistic view of our future.
Dr. King I surmise, would roll over in his grave if he knew how warped his righteous movement has become.
Having said that, my best wishes go with Pres. Obama
Signed, Darrell B.

Winston Smith said...

Obama is a product of the IL Democratic Party Machine--a very slick, opportunistic politician. I have no illusions that life in this country will get better, as long as he demands "sacrifice" from working people, the disabled and the poor, but demands NO sacrifice from the Wall Street kleptocrats who got us into this mess, Obama deserves not one bit of support.

Tim J. Swank