Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the syndication agreement means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)

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       It’s easy to dismiss the efforts by Republicans to require demeaning drug tests from those applying for welfare or unemployment benefits, but maybe it’s an idea that simply needs some tweaks so that it isn’t so one-sidedly cruel.
       Here’s where things stand now: At last count, conservatives in nearly two dozen states are pushing variations of the idea. In Congress, GOP members tried to make it a part of the payroll-tax deal. They were thwarted, but they tried. And they keep trying, even though judges have rejected such laws when they do pass.
       Of course, most of their party’s candidates in their competition to win the Nasty Award are supporting the measures. Mitt Romney calls it an “excellent idea.” After all, it fits right into his “severe conservative” charade of the moment. Rick Santorum says it should be left up to the states, which is a safe bet because the right wing thinks almost everything should be left up to the states — and, of course, Santorum is focusing on other drugs, the contraceptive ones. As for Ron Paul, he’s probably against the idea, since he opposes drug laws, and for that matter just about all laws.
       Newt Gingrich? Hey, this is right out of his poison-recipe book: It’s mean and it has simple-minded appeal. Besides, it made for an easy catch phrase when he told Yahoo! News: “It could be through testing before you get any kind of federal aid, unemployment compensation, food stamps, you name it.”
       It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss Gingrich’s words this time as just his standard operating viciousness. Perhaps the self-described man of “bold ideas” is being too timid. Let’s not stop where he did; let’s make drug testing mandatory for all recipients of government money, and not just those directly on the payroll. This could encompass all who drink from the public trough.
       Everyone in the oil industry, industrial agriculture and those many other corporations that get subsidies would have to fill the cup. Defense contractors would, too, although we’d probably have overruns.
       All of the wealthy who receive special tax expenditures in the form of loopholes and favored treatment would get them only after their samples had passed the test. And let’s not overlook their lobbyists and other influence peddlers who pretended not to be lobbyists, like Newt was and probably will be again when he returns to the private sector.
       What makes the most sense of all is that it be required for anyone in public office or seeking to be. Let’s face it, given the bizarre behavior of the current crop, a drug test would seem to be a terrific idea; clearly our leaders are on something.

       Obviously, we would need to cover the range of harmful substances. Does Gingrich take speed to help blurt out all those loopy ideas? What is Mitt Romney ingesting that leaves him so numb to the concerns of everyone around him? Is Rick Santorum popping piety pills? What’s in the tea partiers’ tea?
       This could enjoy bipartisan backing as a real job producer, particularly if the law obligated that all those measuring containers would have to be made in the USA.
       As mentioned, just a few tweaks and maybe these Republican proposals wouldn’t seem so harsh. Of course, that would defeat their purpose, which is to win over the vindictive extremists who set the agenda for their party right now.
       It’s a good way for them to deflect attention from the real issues, because if they can hammer away at drug tests and the other ways they show hostility toward the poor and needy, they don’t have to face questions about how it came to be that we have so many who need welfare and unemployment benefits. They have already demonstrated they need some performance-enhancing substances.
       © 2012 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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