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Almost five months to the day that Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) was arrested for purchasing cocaine from a federal agent, he joined House Republicans in voting for a provision of the Farm Bill that would have drug-tested recipients of food stamps.

The congressman’s arrest shows us that this vote may not have been about policy. Perhaps it was a cry for help.

With the stated goal of reducing fraud and saving taxpayers money, eight states have instituted drug screening to determine eligibility for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In Utah, Arizona, and Florida, the programs ended up costing more than they saved, all while scarring recipients with a presumption of guilt.

Despite the evidence that such programs are both wasteful and a possible violation of the Fourth Amendment, House Republicans joined the nearly three-dozen states that proposed testing recipients of public assistance for illegal narcotics. What were they trying to tell us?

Maybe chemical dependency is fueling the GOP’s fixation on repealing Obamacare, its lax work schedule, its willingness to shut down the government if they don’t get their way.

Testing welfare or food stamp recipients will have no serious benefit for taxpayers, but shouldn’t we know if our representatives who helped turn a record surplus into a record deficit as millions of Americans are out of work may not be deserving of a paycheck?

Why would they resist such a common-sense approach to keeping big government under control? Do they want to pay higher taxes to finance the depraved indulgences of those suckling off the government teat?

The state legislature of Florida, where Radel is from, passed legislation to drug-test all state employees in 2012 — except themselves. They even turned down an offer of free drug tests from our Carl Hiaasen.

Why would powerful people reject this completely responsible use of government funds?

Could it be that they use illegal drugs at the same rate as the rest of the country? Could it be that the suggestion of drug use is beneath them, since their salary from taxpayers will soon be tripled or quadrupled by lobbying firms? Maybe the fear of being branded an illegal drug user is more powerful than their “principles?” Who would want to live with that threat lingering over their every choice?

The so-called “War on Drugs” — or “The New Jim Crow,” as Michelle Alexander calls it — has created systemic oppression that has put more African-Americans in prison or jail, on probation or parole today than were enslaved in 1850.

The massive number or arrests, the militarization of the police, the racial disparities in sentencing show that  this “war” is “not against dangerous substances but against the poor, the excess Americans,” according to the creator of The Wire, David Simon. He notes that the economic pressure of growing up in intractable poverty drives the poor — and the minorities who are more likely to be poor — both to drug use and dealing, simply “drugs are the only industry left in places such as Baltimore and east St Louis.”

Michelle Alexander has noted the similarities between slavery and the drug war in effectively destroying families. And the effects of incarceration do not end with a prison sentence.”If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African-American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life,” she wrote.

While Radel did support drug-testing food stamp beneficiaries, he has spoken out against the War on Drugs.

The Hip-Hop Tea Partier co-sponsored a bill that would end minimum sentences that often result in non-violent offenders serving time and becoming more likely to eventually commit violent crime.

Unfortunately, his arrest perpetuates the stereotype that only drug users are opposed to the way we currently fight the use of illegal substances.

Will Republicans like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) who are working with Democrats to reform the entrenched bipartisan effort to imprison away the nation’s drug problems begin to shy away from the issue for fear of being branded addicts?

This is why drug-testing members of Congress will make sure drug use isn’t distorting their choices. It’s good enough for the poor. Or as a nation, we could recognize that addiction is a health problem, not a criminal one. Trey Radel does.

“I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice,” he said in a statement released after his arrest. “As the father of a young son and a husband to a loving wife, I need to get help so I can be a better man for both of them.”

He’ll likely serve no time in prison and get the help he needs because of who is he is. And why shouldn’t every American have that opportunity?

Photo: Realtor Action Center via Flickr

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani

Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

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