Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from the LA Times

« Previous Post | Top of the Ticket Home | Next Post »

As Mexico's drug wars rage, Obama lowers U.S. drug czar's job

March 12, 2009 |  4:42 am

Nothing good happens by accident in any president's first 100 days.

So when Vice President Who's-Its showed up Wednesday to formally announce the Obama administration's drug czar and make his familiar comment about only being No. 2, the political world got the signal instantly: This job is not important enough for the commander in chief to do the announcing.

One of the changes that we now know the Great Change Agent is bringing to Washington is the so-called drug czar job is now no longer royalty; it's more like an anti-drug commissioner. In a medium-sized city. In an electorally unimporDemocratic President Barack Obama's new anti-drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, former police chief in Seattletant state. (See news video below.)

Unidentified Obama aides also spread word that the drug job, technically an anti-drug job -- director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy with about 100 employees -- was no longer considered Cabinet rank. But the aide diminished the importance of the diminishing.

Now, many social groups show rank by shiny doodads, big sticks and also hats. The bigger the hat, the bigger the job. Well, in Washington, it's The Chair. Cabinet members get their very own chair. In the Cabinet room. With their names on it.

And they get to take the chair with them when they're fired. It's not worth a whole lot of thought. It's just Washington.

Anyway, as The Ticket reported a month ago, the new Obama anti-drug nominee is Gil Kerlikowske, Seattle's police chief since 2000 and someone who knows firsthand from his estranged adult stepson's experience the tragedy and travails of drug abuse.

Before that, however, Kerlikowske served -- wait for it -- in the Justice Department with Eric Holder, now attorney general. Kerlikowske is another recycled Clintonite.

Now, with a drug war raging just inside next-door Mexico that is claiming thousands of lives -- 32 per day in January alone -- dozens of severed heads and prompting travel warnings for U.S. citizens, some might be surprised that the top U.S. federal position assigned to combat illegal drugs is being diminished. The VP himself calls the violence a threat to U.S. national security.

However, in his 2004 U.S. Senate race Obama, called the nation's war against drugs an "utter failure" and said he favored decriminalizing marijuana.

And right now, the never-epic-sized American attention span is not focused on crime or drugs. It's focused on the economy. Crime'll return as a social fetish; it always does, usually with the Republicans. But meanwhile, ABC's ubiquitous Jake Tapper, he with the amazing memory, shares a story about how in 1989 William Bennett, the new anti-drug czar, found out that Bush I had de-Cabinetized the job.

The new president held a Cabinet meeting and afterward Bennett realized he'd not been invited. So, no chair for him. But in the next day's newspapers there was a quote from the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee bemoaning the diminished importance of the position and of the anti-drug priorities of the new Republican president.

And that quote was from ... Joe Biden, now Barack Obama's No. 2 and the man who did the less important announcing Wednesday. No such bemoaning quote this time.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Click here now to register for Twitter alerts on each new Ticket item.

Photo: Associated Press