William Bennett’s War on Drugs, battles with addiction and tendency to say reprehensible things


by David Safier

Now that Colorado has legalized marijuana and more people are talking about ending the incredibly destructive War on Drugs, it's a good time to take a trip down memory lane and think about my favorite soldier in the war, the nation's first drug czar, William Bennett.

Reagan declared a War on Drugs (I just found out that Nixon used the term in 1971, saying drug abuse is "public enemy No. 1") and Nancy launched her unbelievably patronizing "Just Say No" campaign (Nothing to it, Just Say No. Wasn't that easy?). William Bennett was Reagan's Secretary of Education. Come the Bush I administration, he was appointed the nation's first drug czar.

But there was a little problem. Bennett had a serious addiction to nicotine. He promised to quit, which he eventually did. When confronted with the fact that during his tenure as commander-in-chief of the drug war, the needle didn't move on drug use, he said, half seriously, that at least it got him to quit smoking.

What happened to Bill Bennett after that? Well, he went on to be one of the founders of K12 Inc., the publicly traded, for-profit chain of online charter schools which has received more bad press than any other charter school group I can think of — and earned every critical word. He offered to resign when it was discovered he had a serious gambling addiction and lost millions of dollars (but he had plenty of money from the sale of his book, The Book of Virtues, so he said he really didn't have a gambling problem because he never put his family in financial jeopardy). K12 didn't accept his resignation.

However, some time later, on his radio show, Bennett said what he later claimed was a thought experiment.

"[I]f you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."

He followed that by saying it would be "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do," but that it's true, that would lower the crime rate. After that statement, K12 Inc. decided to accept his resignation.

I could go on and on. For instance, Bennett was Reagan's second choice to be his Ed Sec. The first choice, Mel Bradford, had pro-Confederate views, and that's how Bennett got the job. And Bennett apparently said it was "morally plausible" to behead drug dealers, and he lamented that they were granted habeus corpus rights. I'll stop there.