What would you call the man who denies food to hungry children if their mothers are addicted to drugs while he himself is addicted to drugs? I chose “rat,” but whatever you choose, the people of this community are also forced to call this man “congressman” — at least for now.
Yes, by now you undoubtedly know that your representative in Congress, U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, is a self-described alcoholic and recreational coke user. Fine. No dust off my nose (or his, apparently).
But the real crime is what incredible hypocrisy in which this former radio host partook during his tenure. As he was struggling with his personal inner demons (while on the public’s payroll), he was actively trying to deny food stamp benefits to families whose household heads couldn’t pass a drug test. As his family ate and slept well on his annual salary of almost $200,000, Radel was denying poor single mothers with drug problems the ability to feed their children, all while under the influence himself.
Is there a clearer definition of hypocrisy?
Let’s ignore for a moment the stigma that drug use unfairly brings. Many great men throughout history have had their vices. By many accounts, Winston Churchill was under the influence of alcohol for a good majority of World War II. Barack Obama has admitted to using coke and marijuana as a youth. Steve Jobs credited LSD with giving him the inspiration for the Macintosh.
What substances people use as a cheap form of energy really doesn’t matter to me, as long as they don’t pass judgment on others or suffer in performance as a result.
Sociologists and scientists around the world now understand drug use as a mental-health issue. At its most innocent, it’s a way to relax and escape reality briefly. At its worst, it’s a hell that can destroy lives. Radel’s legislation doesn’t make the distinction between those two extremes, so why should we as his constituents? Consider for a moment what kind of sick person it takes to vote to take away food stamps from poor people for using drugs, while they themselves are using drugs. What goes through the mind of someone while they do something so blatantly hypocritical?
As he was driving to the House chamber to vote, did he look himself in the rear-view mirror? While he snorted the coke he bought, did he think of the thousands of Floridians in jail for doing the very same thing? As he smirked and gave a thumbsup on his way to the rehab center in Naples, did he begin to reconsider the ramifications of his political ideology? In ancient Rome, there were separate rules for the underclass plebes and the upper-class patricians. Today, the rules aren’t written, but they’re very much in place. How else could a society drug test a cashier at Target but not a congressman in office? How else could men in the highest political offices of this country simultaneously admit to having used drugs recreationally while supporting policies in which their constituents are put in prison, denied jobs and literally denied food for the very same “crime”?
If Radel has accomplished anything for our community, it’s that we are now forced to confront the reality of these two worlds that we as Americans live in. For the vast majority of us, these mistakes destroy our reputation and our hope. They indenture us to the prison system. They make us ineligible for $9-an-hour jobs. They deny us food assistance and student loans. For the rich, the powerful and the well-connected, these mistakes are only speed bumps along the path — errors that can be corrected and expunged. The time has come to drug test our politicians. Then we’ll see how fast drug reform becomes a primary issue for these moral hypocrites.