Democrats, Please Stop Falling For Bad-Faith Attacks

The "crack pipes" lie is the latest instance of Democrats taking the bait.

Proving that they are, once again, Charlie Brown to the Republicans’ Lucy with the football, Democrats have fallen for another bad-faith attack from the right.

This week, the Washington Free Beacon falsely reported that the Biden administration was spending $30 million to send crack pipes to drug users. The claim comes from a grant program from the Department of Health and Human Services that would allow states and community programs to receive funding for harm reduction supplies, which can include clean syringes, condoms, vaccines and safe smoking kits.

Despite having nearly identical rates of drug use as white people, Black and other people of color are disproportionately harmed. The Biden administration’s harm reduction efforts are intended to bridge that gap. But all Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) heard is, “Biden is sending crack pipes to minorities and that’s racist.”

The misinformation spread like wildfire, as it usually does. But who would take such a bad-faith attack line from the party that brought us Donald Trump and has a long and sordid history of hypocrisy, lies and outright racism?

The Biden administration, apparently.

It’s now doing damage control. “No federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits,” HHS and the White House said in a statement. President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, also said they never intended to send crack pipes; it was just bad reporting from a conservative news outlet.

This is just another instance of the Democrats capitulating to the right for no good reason. Harm reduction is a tried-and-true public health measure that saves lives. Sending the kits out is not dangerous — but backtracking on it is.

The irony of Rubio and others trying to paint the administration as racist for the initiative is that doing nothing will harm Black people even more. The reality is that people are going to use drugs. The very least the federal government can do is ensure people can do so safely.

Of course, to take the fearmongering at face value, you’d have to be gullible enough to believe that the Republicans care about racism and public health. And for that to be the case, well, perhaps you’ve been living under a rock since March 2020.

The first hint that the criticism wasn’t in good faith was that the initiative would include several different products like clean syringes and drug testing kits, but conservatives were focusing on “crack pipes.” Crack cocaine has had racist associations since the 1980s, leading to a full-blown moral panic around drugs and the passage of the 1994 crime bill, which Biden helped author as a senator from Delaware. The law, among other things, created sentencing disparities that mandate harsher punishment for the possession of crack than for cocaine.

But when white people started using opioids at an alarming rate, all of a sudden it was a public health crisis. White drug users were treated compassionately. When the overdose rate skyrocketed at the onset of the pandemic, Republicans blamed pandemic restrictions, saying they were causing mental health issues. Nobody mocked politicians for trying to help them.

And while the White House has said that it never intended to send pipes to anyone, the right-wing campaign was successful. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are calling on the health department to rethink the kits. Why? They’re worried about “taxpayer funds” being spent on “drug paraphernalia.”

It seems as if Democrats get baited into yet another invented discourse every few years. And it’s usually racist. Though the “defund the police” movement gained some mainstream popularity during the racial justice protests of 2020, hardly any Democratic politician supported the idea, instead opting for the much safer “reform” route. But that didn’t stop Republicans from running ads and making campaign speeches about how Democrats wanted to abolish the police and let murderers run rampant in your neighborhood.

Even though Democrats have countless GOP lies they could have seized on and run with, they instead opted to run away from police reform entirely, lest any voter think that the Republican ads were true. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) even blamed the “defund” policy idea for almost causing her to lose.

Despite the Biden administration’s statements, the right will likely always say the president is sending crack pipes to every household. HHS could scrap the entire program, and Republicans would still use crack pipes as an attack line. It’s the same no matter how far to the right the Democrats slide: The GOP will always accuse them of being radical socialists, and even if Biden took a photograph with 10,000 smiling police officers, the right would still say Democrats hate law enforcement.

At some point, Democrats, if they want to actually serve the public, will have to stop falling for these traps. The GOP has repeatedly proved that it’s not a serious political party with policy goals. All it has now is just hateful rhetoric and talking points that fall apart at even the slightest scrutiny. Ask any Republican who was fearmongering about crack pipes what their solution to the drug crisis is and you’d undoubtedly get a nonanswer.

If the two parties are playing a policy game, the Democrats are the only ones taking it seriously ― so why are they still losing?

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