"This will outdo the Star Wars promotion for name and brand. You will see not just television, radio, newspapers, magazines, the Internet; you will see this message on bus stops and subway cars, movie screens and videogames." -- Bill Clinton, White House anti-drug press conference, Aug. 2, 1999
Lafayette Square is awfully dull, considering its reputation as an ideal locale to throw a violent protest and get some CNN coverage. There's a thick orange haze over the city this summer, as God in his wisdom has decided to keep rain from the evil capital. Across H Street, outside the Veterans Administration building, a bearded old nut has been on a hunger strike for months, although he gets no thinner. His protest sign says something about "cerebral malaria," a disease I've been lucky enough to avoid.
I like it here. It's a good place to have a smoke and stretch the legs, and my office is just a few yards away. But something ugly spoiled my cigarette this week. One of those poison-smog D.C. buses rumbled by with a troubling advertisement pasted to its side: "Just because you survived drugs doesn't mean your kids will."
In the ad's center was a pair of dice, one showing six and the other showing a little cartoon skull. Seven? I shuddered and went back to the newsroom. What could it mean? Was the anti-drug industry now attacking yuppie parents?
Luckily, the White House had sent over a huge pile of anti-drug paraphernalia the previous week, and I hadn't yet thrown it off the desk. The material was from Clinton's August 2 press conference to praise Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey's new campaign to stop the use of illicit drugs. (Yes, this is the same McCaffrey who brutally stomped needle-exchange programs last year, letting junkies die of AIDS to avoid giving children the "wrong message.")
The implications were horrible. Suddenly, the frauds who had once been hippies had savage new weaponry for the assault on the basic rights of their poor dumb kids -- the right to smoke dope and listen to bad art rock, the right to take X and roll around on the floor touching the carpet while playing the Chemical Brothers.
The bus advertisement was part of this media sledgehammer. And it was only the beginning: McCaffrey has a five-year plan, just like Stalin, and the federal money to fund it. The dopehead Clinton lauded the Drug Czar -- a military guy with absolutely no education or expertise in narcotics addiction -- for presenting some goofy report that showed cops and schoolteachers were heavily impressed by the campaign.
Whatever. Only borderline-pedophile D.A.R.E. cops and school counselors have ever done anything but laugh at these Ad Council commercials. The drug world is, and always will be, divided between those who have the luck or money or protection or common sense to play around without getting ruined, and the poor saps who get hooked or busted. As Ray Charles once said, "I never had a problem with heroin. I just had a problem with the cops."
But the sea change is in the new wink-and-nudge tone of these bus ads, versions of which will soon appear on radio and TV. These ads seem to be waving the white flag: "Fine, we acknowledge that we've all done drugs, especially everybody at these ad agencies, and everybody in the White House, and all the lobbyists, and half the congressional staff, and every newscaster and journalist under 50, but if this stuff is going to work we need to convince you that your kids are much dumber."
Basically, it's a campaign aimed at George W. Bush.
Bush, despite his severe retardation and foul record of putting nearly a hundred Texans to death, is living proof that sometimes winners do use drugs. Now, of course I'm trading in gossip and innuendo here, but the fact is that Dubya Bush will not deny he was a cokehead. He has, at least, confessed to being a fun-loving drunk, until Jesus apparently told him he'd have to clean up if he wanted to take over Daddy's throne.
I envision the candidate sitting his kids down and going into a folksy, Yale-y lecture:
"Even though I don't know the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia and think Greeks are called 'Grecians,' and even though I mock the people I execute in the great state of Texas, and even though I'm a genetically dumb frat boy who used to snort coke through $100 bills and drink till I puked, I want you to know that you little punks will do nothing to dim my chances of seizing national power. No Marilyn Manson, no marijuana, no Kennedy-compound antics, no heroin, no meth, no nothing. Just because I survived drugs doesn't mean you will."
Ken Layne was formerly editor of Tabloid.net and new-media critic at Online Journalism Review. His stuff appears in newspapers and online magazines around the country; he is currently foreign editor at United Press International in Washington.