Just Say No and Nancy Reagan

Nancy Reagan - Just Say No!Nancy Reagan is dead, and good for her! She lived 94 years. She deserves a rest. And I mean that. Regular readers know that I am not tenacious of life. Death is not a bad thing after all those years — especially when you consider how good her life was relative to the vast majority of Americans. Lives end, and I’ve often thought that heaven works as a perfect metaphor for nonexistence. Really: can you imagine dealing with eternity in any form other than nonexistence? That, to me, would be hell. But I did want to spend a little time thinking about, “Just say no!”

What I’ve always assume that the “Just say no!” campaign was all about was a response to peer pressure. Kids would say, “What am I supposed to do when someone asks me if I want to smoke a reefer.” And the answer was, “Just say no!” It’s been widely mocked as a simplistic answer to a complicated question. I would go further. Our drug problems, if you want to think of them as such, are not due to peer pressure. People don’t become junkies because they don’t want to look uncool. Indeed, research on junkies in the 1960s and 1970s, found that they were not the insecure kids, but the strong alpha kids.

What did Nancy Reagan know about drug addiction? Just what she was told by others who had the same vested interest in making drug problems worse.

But what Nancy Reagan gave to the campaign was a great symbol of the arrogant and clueless elite. And that makes her really important, because that makes her a great symbol of the Drug War enablers. Nancy Reagan could be out there trying to get the kids to “Just say no!” And that gave cover for destroying millions of lives with drug laws that were never designed to stop drug use, and only ever designed to keep despised minorities down. The same thing goes on to this day.

What did Nancy Reagan know about drug addiction? Just what she was told by others who had the same vested interest in making drug problems worse. I talk a lot around here about how Republicans approach every problem with a long list of things they will not even consider for ideological reasons. Democrats are more than willing to cut the size the government if it made things better, but Republicans will not improve the common good if it involves making the government bigger. (They will, of course, make the government bigger if it enriches the rich or grows the military and police state.) Well, that’s the way drug policy has been in the country for the last century.

We can solve the government created drug problem by telling kids, “Just say no!” Meanwhile, the sentences for those who don’t? They get longer and longer. These non-compliant people are forced into more and more oppressive drug “treatment” programs (In and out of jail!) that don’t work, because they operate from a false premise. This is why the 12 Step programs are so popular: they claim drug use is a moral failing, even while alcohol ads blanket the television screen on weekends.

But there’s something more about “Just say no!” And I think it says a lot about Nancy Reagan herself. The slogan says in no unsubtle way: don’t think for yourself; just do as we tell you. It’s an authoritarian mantra. All you poor kids, just do what the nice white woman with a million dollar wardrobe tells you. She’s your better and you should listen to her. And if you don’t, well, her husband has less pleasant ways to coerce you.

Afterword: Just Say No to Murder!

I’m pretty sure that the same people who killed Scalia killed Nancy Reagan. She was so beloved, that she was going to stop the race war that Obama is going to start any day now.

Morning Music: a Week of Jules Shear?

Funky Kings - Jules ShearI thought I might do a week of Jules Shear. He is one of my favorite artists of all time — I feel like I grew up with him. He got his start in a kind of super band, Funky Kings. They only put out one album, Funky Kings, in 1976. Even at the age of 24, Shear totally dominates that album. And that is with some pretty amazing people in the band: Jack Tempchin and Richard Stekol. It’s really amazing to me, because what talent ever showed up in my life came about some time last week. Anyway, overall the album is good. I bought it many years ago when it was almost impossible to find. I don’t think it has been released on CD — in the US anyway. And you would think an early album featuring three musicians who would go on to write big hits would at least deserve a CD.

Jules Shear’s work on Funky Kings leads very clearly to his next band, Jules and the Polar Bears. But in that band, he goes insane. And their first album continues to be one I listen to often. It is an unquestionably great album. But overall, I listen more to his later work. What can I say? We’ve aged together and we are both more mellow now. But we’ll get to that over time.

Today, let’s listen to Jules Shear’s most mellow track of the album, “So Easy to Begin.” The other two tunes sound too much like what he did with the Polar Bears. But this song shows why the album wasn’t successful: it’s too diverse. The album also includes the original country-tinged Slow Dancing, which was a monster hit for Johnny Rivers just a year later.

Anniversary Post: Bloody Sunday

Selma MarchOn this day fifty years ago, the first Selma to Montgomery march took place. It became known as “Bloody Sunday” after the marchers were attacked by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It is one of the iconic moments of the Civil Rights Movement. It reminds me of something I read yesterday by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Gangsters of Ferguson. In it, he wrote, “The residents of Ferguson do not have a police problem. They have a gang problem.” And that’s exactly right. But don’t expect to hear anyone say that on the nightly news.

But I’m sure you already have heard people on the television news saying roughly the same thing about the troopers and the “county posse” who committed those unconscionable acts of violence fifty years ago. By that time, the Civil Rights Movement was highly advanced, so it got covered and it outraged a lot of people. Two years earlier, I wonder. And I further wonder how today’s media would cover it. Over the last forty years, I’ve seen such a trend in this country toward accepting anything done by someone with a badge.

Future Congressman John Lewis Beaten in SelmaThere was to be no one from the Republican Congressional leadership attending the Selma fiftieth anniversary this weekend. But apparently, at the last minute, even the Republicans realized that it wouldn’t fly — that the questions would continue to be asked. So they send the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. I’ve noted this before about various attempts by the Republicans to woo minority groups. What is the point of doing anything when it is clear that you only go kicking and screaming?

With McCarthy coming, that puts the entire Republican contingent at 24. There are expected to be over a hundred members of Congress at the event. Let’s have some fun with our old friend arithmetic. That means there will be at most 24% Republicans at the event. And they represent 56% of the Congress. That means that 8% of their caucus is going and at least 32% of the Democratic caucus is going. That seems about right: a four-to-one ratio.

Edmund Pettus BridgeBut I’m glad so few Republicans are going to the event. I hate to see hypocrisy. Every time I hear some Republicans going on about Lincoln and how terrible slavery was, all I can think is, “You would have been a slavery supporter if you had lived back then.” Conservatism is a relative thing. It isn’t that modern conservatives are just smart and they would have been liberals if they had lived in the 19th century. No. It is an attitude. They are against the powerless. And that’s also true of Bloody Sunday. They would have been the ones saying, “Well, they were ordered to disperse; they got what they deserved.” So they are right to stay away now. The less hypocrisy, the better.

As for the march itself, all I can say is that those people had a lot more courage than I do. But maybe I can be forgiven. The thing about great social movements and unions is that they give us courage. The power elite since that time have gotten much better at defining dissent as unthinkable. But as we see in Ferguson, the same problems exists. And the same people are there to claim that it is nothing. African Americans would be fine if they were just “twice as good”; women would triumph if they only “leaned in”; and workers would be rewarded if they just worked like dogs without a peep. But it isn’t true. And it seems to be a constant struggle just to stand still.

But just imagine where we would be if they hadn’t succeeded fifty years ago.