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Bennett the Drug Czar

The never-ending squalor of the Tower debate may be more diverting, but there is ample amusement--and alarm--to be taken from the Senate hearings on the confirmation of William J. Bennett as cabinet-level director of the Bush Administration’s drug control efforts.

Bennett is the former philosophy professor who served as Ronald Reagan’s education secretary. His academic career appears to have been devoted to proving the proposition that Aristotle can be mixed with beer and various forms of macho posing. As education secretary, he studiously avoided most of the hard problems facing the nation’s crisis-ridden schools, while dashing about making a nuisance of himself over what he thinks is nearly everyone else’s insufficient attention to traditional thought and values.

If last week’s confirmation hearings are any indication, it looks as if the country is in for more of the same from Bennett the drug czar.

Among other perplexing things, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that it might be necessary to call out the military to suppress drug traffickers and that, if there were “compelling reasons” to do so, he would favor suspending basic civil liberties. “Lincoln did suspend habeas corpus rights (during the Civil War), and I don’t think that was a terrible thing to do,” Bennett said.

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“The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” the czar-designate said portentously.

Right. And neither, despite all the martial rhetoric that has been thrown at it, is the drug problem the Civil War, which was the most threatening crisis ever to befall this country. If two world wars could be survived without recourse to suspension of habeas corpus, we suspect the drug problem--serious though it may be--will too.

Serious, in fact, is precisely what Bennett isn’t. He was drawn into discussions of these exaggerated hypothetical cases because he is ill-prepared by temperament and experience to tackle this critical issue of public health and safety. The Senate probably will confirm him, but the Administration should have done better than this nomination.


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