If I described a man who took active part in student demonstrations in the 1960's, helped take over Weller Hall when he was attending Hofstra University (a man who, when running for student senate, wrote in the school's newspaper: "these conservative kids don't fuck and get high like we do"), and later did a stint as a roadie for the band "Ten Years After," you would probably form a certain type of image in your mind. Let us not mince words -- you'd think he was a hippie.
But if I described a conservative Republican Senator from Minnesota who supports the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), you'd probably get a different image in your mind. Problem is, they're the same guy.
Meet Norm Coleman, the guy that Al Franken is running to unseat in his bid for the U.S. Senate.
Last Wednesday, an open letter to Coleman appeared on the website for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The letter is worth quoting in its entirety:
My friend Norman,
Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana. Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope.
Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's advice.
We grew up to become lawyers. Our other friends, as you go down the list, are doctors, professors, parents, political consultants and professionals. No one ever got cancer from smoking pot or diabetes from using a joint. And the days of our youth we look back fondly upon as years where we stood up, were counted and made a difference, from Earth Day in 1970 to helping bring down a president and end a war in Southeast Asia a few years later. We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students' rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession.
You never said then that pot was dangerous. What was scary then, and is as frightening now, is when national leaders become voices of hypocrisy, harbingers of the status quo, and protect their own position instead of the public good. Welcome to the crowd of those who have become a likeness of which they despised. Welcome to the mindless myriad of legislators who gather in cocktail lounges to manhandle their martinis while passing laws against drunk driving.
We have seen more people die last year from spinach then pot. We have endured generations of drug addicts overdosing on a multitude of drugs, from heroin to crystal methamphetamine. In your public life, as an attorney general, mayor and United States senator, you have been in the forefront of speaking out against abuses which are harmful. You have been a noble and honorable public servant. How about not being such a dope on dope?
How about admitting that if the Rockefeller drug laws were applied to Norman Bruce Coleman on Long Island in 1968, or to me, or to our friends, and fellow students, you, I and others we knew and loved might just be getting out of jail now? How about recognizing that for too long too many have been wrongly arrested, unjustly prosecuted and illegally incarcerated for unconscionable periods of time?
How about recognizing that you have peers who have smoked pot for 25 years or more and they are successful record producers, businessmen and parents?
How about standing up and saying you have heard and witnessed countless stories of persons who have used pot medicinally, as I have, to endure the effects of chemotherapy?
You who have travelled to Africa and seen the face of AIDS so up close and personal would deny medicinal marijuana relief to those souls wasting away from malnutrition, nausea and no access to fundamental medicines?
How about not adopting the sad and sorry archaic path of our office of drug control, which this week suggested pot smokers are more likely to become gang members than others?
How about standing up and saying: "I, Norm Coleman, smoked pot in 1969." That "I am not a gang member, a drug addict or a criminal."
How about saying: "I was able to responsibly integrate my prior pot use into my life, and still succeed on my own merits."
How about standing up not only for who you are, but who you were?
How about it, Norm?
I will always love, admire and cherish what you have achieved and accomplished and the goals you have met. I will always fondly look at the remarkable success of your present.
How about you looking back at your past and saying: "What I did was not so wrong and not so bad and not so hurtful that generations of Americans should still, decades later, be going to jail for smoking pot -- nearly one million arrests for possession last year."
Can't Norm Coleman come out of the closet in 2007 and say "These arrests are wrong -- that there is a better way, and we need to find it."
You might find more integrity and honor in that then adopting the sad and sorry policy of our Office of National Drug Control Policy.
You might find the person you were.
This letter was written by Norm Kent, who sits on the Board of Directors of NORML.
Media coverage of the letter has been sparse, to date. There have been a few stories in the local Minnesota press, and one on AirAmerica Minnesota's website, but I feel this needs wider attention.
The response to the article from the Coleman campaign was pretty feisty. Here is LeRoy Coleman, Press Secretary for Senator Coleman:
There's nothing normal about NORML, but, that's really not the point. It is a well known fact that years ago, as a college student, he smoked marijuana. Years later, with the hindsight of maturity, he realizes that it was a dangerous time in his life and could well have had seriously negative consequences on his health and on those around him.
The impact of drugs today -- the level of poisons in marijuana on the streets today -- and drugs like crack and meth -- are killing our children and destroying communities. The adults who lead NORML today should be joining the Senator, and those who now know the dangers of drugs, to do the responsible thing to prevent legalization of drugs of any kind that could harm the lives and future of our children.
Franken's campaign was likewise subdued. Understandably so, since Al has his own past issues with drug use. While I'm sure Al-the-comedian would have had some choice words to say about Coleman, Al-the-candidate is now very senatorial and serious-minded.
[I should mention that although the press office is very busy at Franken's campaign today, since they just announced that Franken outraised Coleman by about $300,000 (which is an astounding feat for a challenger versus an incumbent, before the primaries have even happened), campaign Communications Director Andy Barr was nice enough to take the time to email me the following statement:]
Al has written two movies about the family disease of chemical dependency. He believes that drug policy is an important issue and should be taken seriously, and he's committed to addressing issues of enforcement, addiction, and rehabilitation.
Al's much more willing to say what he thinks when the question is more generically phrased. Here's his response in a recent interview (you can see the whole thing on Al's campaign blog) to the question: "What's your assessment of Norm Coleman, as a senator?"
Oh, as a senator. (Laughs) Good.
I think that he forgot right away who he was supposed to be serving. I think, instead of the people of Minnesota, he was serving Bush and Cheney and special interests. Six months after Paul died, he did an interview with Roll Call, one of the Capitol Hill newspapers and he said, "To be blunt, I'm a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone."
He said it, go look it up. Three or four days later, when he finally apologized he said, "What I meant was I'm a 99 percent improvement over Paul in terms of supporting this White House."
I take him at his word, I really do. He is on the side of the pharmaceutical companies, not our seniors. In Medicare Part D, he doesn't want Medicare negotiating with the pharmaceuticals. The VA does. The top 20 drugs bought and used by seniors are 44 percent cheaper with the VA than Medicare Part D. That's because the VA is allowed to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies. If you look at Norm's fund raising, he's gotten $650,000 from pharmaceutical companies since 2002. So he's not operating in the interests of the people of Minnesota; he's operating in the interests of the Bush-Cheney White House and their cronies.
Another example, he was chairman of the permanent subcommittee of investigations, the most powerful oversight committee of the Senate. As chairman of that committee, he had sole subpoena power. He could subpoena anyone he wanted, he didn't need a majority of his committee to do it. Did zero hearings on war profiteering.
Harry Truman had the same job in WWII, with a Democratic Senate, Democratic White House, Democratic House, did over 400 hearings on war profiteering. Harry Truman called war profiteering "treason" and it is.
Now that's more like it!
But while Mr. Franken is reluctant (for obvious reasons) to take on Coleman on his hypocrisy over marijuana use, I am not. Obviously, this is what happens when hippies turn to the Dark Side later in life. Let's review: Norm Coleman worked as a roadie for Ten Years After (big hit: "I'd Love To Change The Word"). Coleman obviously enjoyed the hell out of marijuana in the 60s. Coleman now strongly supports the ONDCP's wastage of our tax dollars on television commercials (official propaganda) which equate smoking a joint with supporting the 9/11 terrorists (I'm not making this up -- Arianna Huffington herself got so upset at these that she ran her own ads equating gassing up your SUV with supporting Middle East terrorism). Coleman is now a conservative Republican member of the Senate. Add it all up, and Norm Coleman falls squarely into my personal category of: "Hippies Gone Bad."
Hypocrisy, thy name is Norm Coleman.
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post