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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

12 thoughts on “Just Say No and Nancy Reagan

  1. I don’t remember anyone offering me drugs growing up. I do remember someone offered me spiked Pepsi once. She thought my shocked expression was very funny. And she was right!

    • As has been observed many times — what’s harder for a teenager to get, pot or alcohol? Alcohol, because it’s legal and highly regulated. I didn’t have any drugs offered me either (except LSD, which I enjoyed immensely), but everyone in junior high knew where to get drugs.

      True story: the last time I had LSD was at the Merchant Marine academy. Where did it come from? Chemistry students at the Naval Academy.

      I saw the news this morning say Reagan was remembered for her “popular phrase Just Say No.” Well, if by popular you mean widely ridiculed, than sure. I didn’t know any kid who didn’t find that phrase ridiculous, and I didn’t exactly run with the fast crowd.

    • If peer pressure is a major problem, it is doubtless more about alcohol than illegal drugs. But as a society, we have so many irrational hangups. Drugs and sex are probably the two biggest. No one is supposed to have fun — not that both aren’t overrated in that regard. I suspect some book banning is about people having fun too. Usually, it is because people are enjoying a book too much.

      • That is because we adults tend to think kids are stupid and easily led.
        Not all adults think that but that is where those theories come from.

        • Yeah. They are. But the adults show their own insecurity about their beliefs I think. Other than mild stimulants, people don’t normally like drugs. People develop tastes for them. But a good way to get people into them is by making a big deal out of them.

  2. Even the semi-prohibition of age restrictions seems to cause problems. In recent years it’s become fashionable for underage/college kids to get falling-down drunk. Using highly caffeinated energy drinks as a mixer while drinking to excess has caused some deaths by alcohol poisoning and where I am, it’s commonplace for kids to fall off motel balconies during Spring Break.

    The VD capital of the country is currently Montgomery, Alabama, smack in the heart of the Bible Belt.

    Portugal’s experiment in decriminalizing drugs has been very instructive, but the US seems unable to learn from experience.

    • Drug use is generally a social behavior. This is why there are usually problems when a new drug is introduced to a society. In our society, we’ve created these kinds of cutoffs: you don’t drink until you are 21 and then you do. Of course, just about everyone does — but generally away from adults and often in a very destructive way. It’s much better to bring kids along slowly.

      The same dynamic goes on with sex, except that the sex drive will not be stopped. I occasionally run into groups of high school kids on public transit, and you can smell the hormones.

      We don’t deal well with nuance in this culture. It’s part of our strength, but when it comes to a lot of things, it is a profound weakness. And there is a huge installed base of moochers — police officers of various kinds, prison guards not to mention related business interests, the entire legal system — for whom fixing any drug problem is counter productive — bad for business. I try not to think about it, because few things make me more angry — not so much because it is an outrage (there’s no shortage of them), but because the society in general is so oblivious to it.

  3. Couple of my kids were kinda distraught as they thought Ronald Reagan had died….not that they know more of him than he was President sometime around their moms birth.
    She wasn’t a pioneer of the anti-drug movement. Under Carter many restrictions were initiated. I remember a local ‘head shop’ called the Mighty Quinn issued a written notice to its patrons of what items they would no longer carry……and what the new names (and classifications) of items they would be carrying (like incense grinder and Indian tobacco pipe). It was 1979 and a ton of new regulations were coming onto the books.
    I was just shy of voting age when I heard RR announce his intent to run for the senior most position. Really, I thought it was a joke. I had a Jewish history teacher at the time. He was very concerned about the announcement.
    Don’t miss Reagan. Didn’t know she was still around.
    It irritates my wife, but when the kids come home with Just Say No pins, I don’t really endorse them wearing them…and have been heard to mutter Just Say Maybe.

    • Drug laws have been getting worse for a hundred years. But I don’t recall things getting especially bad under Carter. And you were only 16 when Carter left office. I question whether you were hanging out at the Might Quinn then. But maybe. I do remember when carburetors on bongs became illegal, as though that made any sense.

      • Yep. I was 16 and made a couple ceramic water pipes, in continuation high school art class, which I sold to the Mighty Quinn. They weren’t really strict about age back then. Thinking I still have the flyer from MQ of the 1979 changes.

        • I didn’t realize you had done that. Why didn’t you continue with that? It would have been a great career path — right up to the point you landed in federal prison.

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