Sanders, whose increasing popularity across rural, suburban and urban America is finally being grudgingly acknowledged by even the corporate media, is the junior senator from Vermont. Vermont is the epicenter of heroin addiction in America.
I can hear the Clinton campaign wheels spinning. I can hear the debates now:
Sanders: I support Medicare for every man, woman and child in America.Of course, Hillary Clinton seizing upon heroin abuse for purely crass political reasons is mere conjecture on my part. But that this very savvy woman timed her sudden overwhelming concern about drugs with the sudden ascendancy of Bernie Sanders is a tad coincidental. Heroin and meth addiction have been in the news for a while now. But I guess Clinton is not a Breaking Bad fan. I guess she didn't read about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Clinton: Hah! Your own constituents are killing themselves with heroin and you can't even put a dent in it. Take care of your own miserable little state first, then we'll talk.
Sanders: I support a free college education for every American.
Clinton: Say what? How can brains on drugs in a frying pan be helped by college? Clean up your own act, Senator.
According to Amy Chozick of the New York Times,
To her credit, Clinton has already repudiated her husband's war on drugs and called for prison reform and with it, the at least partial decriminalization of drug addiction. According to Chozick, she will espouse better treatment and prevention, and better access to mental health services. But so far, any concrete proposals -- such as raising taxes on the rich in order to fund treatment and prevention -- are lacking. So is any awareness that one of the root causes of rampant drug use in the United States is the despair and hopelessness wrought by the most extreme wealth inequality in recent memory. This inequality is manufactured in state and national neoliberal legislatures so cruel that they make Walter White's meth lab look like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory in comparison.Hillary Rodham Clinton’s carefully choreographed round-table discussions with voters don’t lead to many moments of surprise. But Mrs. Clinton has seemed to have had some legitimate jolts when conversations in Iowa and New Hampshire repeatedly drifted back to drug abuse.Mrs. Clinton called heroin and methamphetamine addiction in rural America a “quiet epidemic” and told her policy advisers in Brooklyn to put it on the list of priorities as her campaign inched closer toward presenting a specific policy platform.As part of that effort, last week senior campaign policy advisers held Google Hangout discussions with local officials and substance abuse activists in Iowa and New Hampshire to see how the campaign could best address the problem, the first of such discussions that will take place in the early nominating states, according to the campaign.
Sometimes it's easier to use your last twenty bucks to score some chemical euphoria than it is to buy yourself a decent meal on a minimum wage paycheck or an inadequate food stamp stipend. Besides masking physical and psychic pain, drugs can also be appetite suppressants. And drugs also serve to cull the herd of what Henry Giroux calls the disposable people. Nationwide, deaths from drug overdoses exceed deaths from traffic accidents. In Vermont alone, the fatality rate has tripled over the past three decades.
Deaths by drug overdose have heretofore been a human catastrophe effectively ignored by both legacy parties. The exception was when Philip Seymour Hoffman overdosed and the political-media complex went into a very temporary frenzy of concern-trolling. When it comes to poor people on drugs, the question is how the rich can extract profits from them. (see, for example, the Times' excellent piece on the scam of so-called three-quarter housing for addicts.)
That Hillary Clinton would ignore Vermont's first place status as Heroin Abuse Capital of the World in any debate with Bernie Sanders is highly unlikely now that she's seized upon it as a campaign issue. So far, she is acting as the gracious hostess, "welcoming" him to the race as though she were inviting him to her own private tea dance. Despite her falsely modest claims that she doesn't consider herself inevitable this time, she just can't help acting as though she owns the place.
This niceness will not last. It's not the Clinton way. Stay tuned for unsheathed claws, oppo research and lots of dirty campaigning.
And just in case you thought Bernie Sanders himself is "soft on drugs," think again. He is agnostic about legalization of marijuana, for example. Probably the only difference between him and Clinton is how heroin and meth addiction can be combated and paid for. With Bernie, it's taxing the rich and universal health care. With Clinton, she is not telling. She's hiding behind focus groups and Google hangouts, while Sanders is drawing record crowds in rural Iowa.