Ex-Czar for the RNC

November 29, 1990

In a sense it's fitting that William J. Bennett is giving up his job as so-called drug czar to become chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). In his 20 months in office he fought a Republican drug war. He discouraged middle class, suburban drug use with his lectures and emphasis on punishment and increased spending for law enforcement and prisons.

Mr. Bennett did not pay enough attention, however, to the heavy drug use by the urban poor, a problem that cries out for greater emphasis on education, counseling and health care. It is instructive that Mr. Bennett announced with fanfare that he would make the District of Columbia a test case and a showcase -- and then abandoned it, blaming others for the lack of progress there.

This is not to demean the gains he did make in the areas in which he chose to lead, and we hope they continue. But until the federal government decides to spend greater amounts of money on such things as drug-related AIDS and on fetal addiction, the war on drugs is going to be one without real victory. That the government hasn't and won't is due to George Bush's priorities more than it is due to Bill Bennett's.

President Bush is not taking the war on drugs nearly as seriously as he should. If he were, he would hardly allow the man in charge of it to quit after only 20 months on the job. Nor would he have decided to replace him with Gov. Bob Martinez of Florida, as the White House has confirmed. Treating the drug czarship as a political spoil is bad enough, and giving it to a defeated politician (Governor Martinez was voted out of office Election Day) as balm is even worse.

We imagine Mr. Bennett's tenure at the RNC will be memorable. He is energetic, intellectual and combative. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with for 1992. Since he is also unashamedly ambitious, it will also be interesting to see if he's laying any foundations for 1996 and, if so, how that will be regarded by such Republicans as Dan Quayle, Phil Gramm, Jack Kemp, Pete Wilson and others with presidential ambitions.

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