Following up on the previous post, I wanted to say a few things about how the debate over drug policy offers a good example of how our political debates tend to function regardless of the policy in question. The lopsided nature of these debates is most pronounced when it comes to one of the various “wars” the government has declared against abstractions and nouns, but it is not limited to these. If the government declares a “war” on drugs, or poverty, or terrorism, skepticism about or outright opposition to the actual policies employed by the government in the “prosecution” of said “war” is treated as implicit support for the target of the “war.” This is the one part of all of these “wars” that can be deemed successful, namely its propaganda, which frames criticism of “war” policies, no matter how counterproductive, failed, illegal or even immoral, as something akin to collaboration with “the enemy” in the “war.” Likewise, to have doubts or raise red flags about invading Iraq was to be an apologist for despotism at best and pro-Saddam at worst. We see this pattern replicated again and again in debates over the war in Georgia last year or Gaza this year.
This framing works very well for defenders of the policy being criticized, as it forces the critics to operate at a double disadvantage. They are first of all reacting to bad policy, which makes their arguments necessarily negative and more easily dismissed for that reason as mere “naysaying,” and second the critics must qualify the beginning of all their arguments with some emphasis on how much they, too, loathe the official enemy in said “war.” This means the critics are reduced to pragmatic and frequently much more complicated critiques that lack the rhetorical and emotional power of the simplistic, ideological line that the government is pushing, and they are reduced to arguments from circumstance, which tend not to pack the same punch as arguments from definition even when the latter are founded on falsehoods or, more often, on far more destructive half-truths.