Jeff Sessions, Drugs and the Late Lamented GOP

Jeff Sessions is a poster boy for the contemporary GOP–a perfect example of its takeover by racists, misogynists and anti-intellectuals, and its retreat from (and misapplication of) its philosophical roots.

Nowhere is the intellectual and moral corruption Sessions represents clearer than in his enthusiasm for re-instituting the War on Drugs–a counterproductive effort that even the rank and file of the GOP has largely abandoned.

Whether Sessions’ determination to go after marijuana, as well as harder drugs, is a result of his inability or unwillingness to understand the research, or is prompted by investments in the private prison industry, as has been speculated, is beside the point. In either case, Sessions is an example of the division–the abyss– between thoughtful adherents of principled conservatism and the ideologues who appeal to a far less thoughtful Republican base.

Nothing makes those contemporary Republican divisions clearer than a recent issue of Policy Analysis, a publication of the Cato Institute. Whether one agrees with its positions or not, Cato is indisputably home to legitimate scholars who make principled and consistent arguments for a libertarian point of view that used to be widely accepted–albeit never dominant–within the GOP.

Unlike today’s Republicans, Cato does not confine its application of libertarianism to economic issues and the boardroom while cheerfully endorsing theocratic control of personal behaviors.

The Institute’s current research adds to the great weight of evidence against Session-like drug policy, as the introduction makes clear:

Proponents of drug prohibition claim that such policies reduce drug-related crime, decrease drug-related disease and overdose, and are an effective means of disrupting and dismantling organized criminal enterprises.

We analyze the theoretical underpinnings of these claims, using tools and insights from economics, and explore the economics of prohibition and the veracity of proponent claims by analyzing data on overdose deaths, crime, and cartels. Moreover, we offer additional insights through an analysis of U.S. international drug policy utilizing data from U.S. drug policy in Afghanistan. While others have examined the effect of prohibition on domestic outcomes, few have asked how these programs impact foreign policy outcomes.

We conclude that prohibition is not only ineffective, but counterproductive, at achieving the goals of policymakers both domestically and abroad. Given the insights from economics and the available data, we find that the domestic War on Drugs has contributed to an increase in drug overdoses and fostered and sustained the creation of powerful drug cartels. Internationally, we find that prohibition not only fails in its own right, but also actively undermines the goals of the Global War on Terror.

Right now, all eyes are on the harm being done to our nation by the embarrassing buffoon in the Oval Office and his cabinet of theocrats and incompetents. That harm is real. But an even greater and more long-term harm comes from the collapse of a once-respectable political party capable of articulating a serious, intellectually  challenging conservative philosophy.

Much as partisans like to believe it, no political party has all the answers to the dilemmas of modern society. Without the advantage of adult conversation and debate, without the ability to consider and evaluate contending good-faith approaches to our common problems, America can’t move forward.

As long as the GOP remains dominated by clones of Jeff Sessions — in thrall to a rigid ideology, bound to partisan litmus tests, and convinced that genuine consideration of probative evidence is tantamount to betrayal– we all lose.


  1. Wikipedia definition of origin of Radical Republicans:

    “The Radical Republicans were a faction of American politicians within the Republican Party of the United States from around 1854 (before the American Civil War) until the end of Reconstruction in 1877. They called themselves “Radicals” and were opposed during the War by the Moderate Republicans (led by President Abraham Lincoln), by the conservative Republicans, and the largely pro-slavery and later anti-Reconstruction Democratic Party, as well as by conservatives in the South and liberals in the North during Reconstruction.[1] Radicals strongly opposed slavery during the war and after the war distrusted ex-Confederates, demanding harsh policies for punishing the former rebels, and emphasizing equality, civil rights, and voting rights for the “freedmen” (recently freed slaves).”

    “Jeff Sessions is a poster boy for the contemporary GOP–a perfect example of its takeover by racists, misogynists and anti-intellectuals, and its retreat from (and misapplication of) its philosophical roots.”

    I am unable to fit Jeff Sessions, an old, white, anally retentive, white supremacist, anywhere into the original Republican party or the GOP before Reagan’s election. Trump has compared himself and his minions as being patterned after President Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. Nowhere in conservative, moderate or radical Republican party origins can I fit todays GOP party, their goals, their actions and especially their barely inside the law, borderline treasonous coverups of this entire sitting administration. Sessions is but one of them. We, who have been paying attention before Trump’s takeover of the airwaves and the Internet, knew before his appointment, that Sessions is still a “good old southern boy” to his core and would be a slave-holder today if he could get away with it.

    I believe his current “action” to resurrect the “war on drugs” as Attorney General is in part to show he is earning that big salary our tax dollars are paying him and an attempt to distract us from the escalating problems caused by Trump. He has been pushed into the background after being headline news, however briefly, with his questionable appointment.

    Commenters on this blog and millions around the country are blaming the current weakened Democratic party for much of the disastrous “deconstruction” of government as we know it. It is the weakened (or bought and paid for) Republicans in Congress who are supporting Trump and passing his Executive Orders and bills. Many of them refused to “go home” when out of session to face their constituents out of cowardice. But the same holds true for Democrats. Their lack of action allows Sessions to succeed now that he has crawled out from under his rock.

  2. As the Reagan admin figured out, when extra spending cash is needed, it is nice to have the Drug Business as a way to get your instant cash.

  3. Everyone knew that Sessions was an intolerant man, uninterested in justice for all, but he was a perfect fit for 45. He would pledge loyalty to 45 and readily ignore the Constitution. Giving him the power and authority of the Attorney General was a kick in the teeth to the rule of law.

  4. Peggy; I know you are aware that Sessions is NOT actually recused from the Trump/Russian investigation or the new situation with special counsel, but is busy behind the scenes. I am wondering how many paper shredders are running 24/7 in the White House and other government offices since the firing of FBI Dir. Comey. Regarding Sessions “war on drugs”; they will simply plagarize older government documents and reissue them as original thoughts by Sessions.

    As an aside; I am more worried about the damage Trump will do outside of this country regarding diplomatic relations with our allies. He appears to be visiting only those countries he has not insulted publicly or alienated during their visits here.

  5. Call me a cynic, but “thoughtful adherents of principled conservatism” increasingly sounds like a straw man. And that’s tragic. We need two adult, principled, thoughtful parties.

  6. Years ago, a very conservative member of the Indiana State Legislature was a hard core enthusiast for ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ for anyone convicted of drug crimes. He also had the disagreeable habit of thinking anyone who disagreed with him on various issues was ‘unchristian’ and ‘Unamerican’.

    Then his teenage son was arrested for stealing drugs. The legislator intervened to make sure his son was not locked up with the key thrown away. I thought surely that experience would change the father’s approach to and rhetoric on drug abuse. It didn’t. Hell fire and damnation continued to be his ‘gospel’ even though it had failed at home and in the broader society.

  7. As usual, the single item left out of the drug control or “war on drugs” conversations is the DEMAND population. Who is demanding those drugs? Why is that demand increasing? What elements in society create so much of this demand? What is it about the American way of life that drives so many to spend billions of dollars on illicit drugs that have the risk of death with the first use? I’m excluding MJ here, because there is no valid evidence that it is all that harmful, and indeed has many positive benefits.

    Nobody in politics seems to want to ask those annoying questions like: “Why does my kid so much want to be high? What’s wrong with his life that he has to use drugs to feel good?”

    Of course, if we look around, we see that parenting often constitutes buying gadgets for their kids that keeps them busy and out of the way of the parents’ ever-so frantic lives that attempt to pay for the McMansion and the two beamers. The poor kids have little hope for success and so continue to wallow in those sub-culture ghettos that most middle class and above people chronically ignore.

    Jeff Sessions is merely a throwback cracker who understands little beyond his own racism and backwardness.

  8. Working off Vernon’s post, I agree about what is causing so many people to turn to drugs?

    How about high unemployment in rural areas?
    Living outside of the city with nothing to do but do drugs and have sex?
    Poor education systems, especially in Alabama.
    No hope for them to have a decent life?
    Too much hopelessness and not enough mental health care to cover them for their needs?

    Portugal legalized drugs and their addicts are treated at their single payer healthcare system and crime dropped considerably too. Those people were treated as humans and not as monsters or animals like our system of justice. I think you’ve covered that topic before Professor.

    Sessions has a conflict of interest along with being a old white guy that doesn’t know anything about the world at large. Yes, a cracker indeed.

  9. I can’t claim any drug experience but it strikes me that the key is not the users but the business. We are all susceptible to influence by persuasion and the money involved clearly is a compelling business opportunity for many people with no other prospects. That’s what needs to go away.

    Traditionally we have relied on law enforcement to make the risk of jail a bigger threat than the easy money is an opportunity and that equation has failed us.

    It seems time to find other ways to attack at the core of the problem, it’s profitability.

    That’s all way beyond Jeff Sessions of course.

  10. Of course, as members of Nixon’s administration later admitted, Nixon’s “War On Drugs” was designed and intended to target Blacks. (O.K., they probably hoped to ensnarl a few pot smoking Hippies as well). That was the whole idea in the first place; it wasn’t really about the drugs per se. Nixon’s and the Republicans so called “War On Drugs” and “War on Crime” were both part and parcel of Nixon’s entirely racist “Southern Strategy” that successfully changed the Southern states from being solidly Democratic to now solidly Republican (another thing we can blame Nixon and his cabal of henchmen for).

    If more proof is needed, empirically we know the War On Drugs has always been disproportionally focused on Blacks and particularly Black males. Most research shows that more White people in this Country buy and use illegal drugs than African-Americans do, but the there are far more African-Americans arrested and convicted for drug possession than Whites. Another example, was the hugely disproportionate sentences for being caught with “crack,” a form of cocaine predominately used by Blacks, versus the much lesser sentences for regular old powder cocaine; a drug predominately and used in greater numbers by Whites, even though both are exactly the same “drug.” Throw in mandatory minimum sentences, and you end up with a huge percentage of young Black males either in prison facing long terms and/or with felony records when they do get out, making it extremely difficult for them to ever become fully productive citizens even if they try to.

    Leaving the money contributed by the private prison industry aside for the moment, the point is that the “War On Drugs” dovetails with Sessions’ racist views. Another way of keeping the Black man down. So once again, it’s not really about the drugs, it’s about race only now adding in Latinos and Hispanics as well as African-Americans.

    Albert Einstein is commonly attributed as having said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The results of the racist War On Drugs, which Sessions wants to reprise and double down on — as established by the Caito Institute research cited by Professor Kennedy today — is that it not only has not prevented or lessened the use of illegal drugs in this Country, but has actually made the problem much worse. So why not keep on doing what we’ve been doing? Is there really any doubt that racism is at the core of Sessions’ desire to lock up drug users?

  11. Racism yes, but it’s really about voting rights.

    The policy is aimed at maximizing the number of black and minority citizens that can be disenfranchised by drug convictions and therefore cannot vote in many places like Alabama.

    If you look at the High School DARE reports, the highest usage is in the white affluent neighborhoods, but most of the investigations are in the poorest, blackest neighborhoods, where the residents are more likely to encounter police who will search them. This is all nicely trimmed with municipal boundaries that separate white from black neighborhoods.

  12. Joe Adams:
    That is certainly part of the whole equation. Many ways for Republicans like Sessions to exploit racism.

  13. The private prison business needs more business, hence its stand on strict drug enforcement and lobbying for heavier sentencing guidelines. That business, along with the so-called health insurance business, shoud be put out of business. Who needs them? The health and welfare of its citizens is entrusted to government, not its subcontractors. As for libertarian-leaning CATO, I usually look askance at their products but the one Sheila cites seems to be based on facts, and I am still a believer in conclusions that can be drawn from facts, unlike Trumpies. However, I am not sure that I agree that libertarians are having a lesser impact on the Republican Party what with adherents like the libertarian Koch Brothers buying that party’s positions. If anything, I think that libertarians are strengthening their hold on the Republican Party.

  14. David F at 12:25pm 5/19
    “…Nixon’s entirely racist “Southern Strategy” that successfully changed the Southern states from being solidly Democratic to now solidly Republican…”

    Any thoughts about today’s effects of bombardment by evangelism, the “Christian” peaching churches, Bible colleges and universities, the Southern Baptist Convention, “Liberty Univ”, charter schools, and the resulting widespread ascendancy of American political pressure to legislate morality? Think about it.

  15. The comments are as interesting & informative as the article – and as opinionated – all of which I appreciate & enjoy as well. And that can be said of all your articles!

Comments are closed.