Over the holidays I was flipping through the New Yorker’s big book of cartoons, and one comic in particular caught my eye: It was an image from the late 1960s, with a couple of heavily decorated generals looking out the window of some D.C. office building at a protest going by.
The caption: “Why can’t they leave peace to the experts?”
To my mind, it resonated with today’s society — most obviously, with the war in Iraq. But also with the war on drugs. There never seems to be any shortage of “experts” who pontificate about phenomena they don’t actually understand, who treat tiny crumbs of ambiguous data as if they were vast mountains of incontrovertible fact, and who make predictions that eventually turn out to be wildly incorrect.
It happens all the time.
What’s far more rare is for somebody to look back after the fact and say: Hey, you guys were wrong. You claimed you knew a great deal, but you were either lying or you were incompetent. You actually knew almost nothing. The world we actually live in is not remotely similar to the world you described. All your hysterics, all your doomsday scenarios, were nothing but the opportunistic rantings of a professional fear-monger. You said “Leave peace to the experts.” And you said it purely so that war would be a certainty.
Today I thought of that cartoon again while reading a greatop-ed by political consultants Bill Zimmerman and Dave Fratello in the LA Daily Journal. Essentially, it’s a piece that looks back at all the ridiculous rhetoric that surrounded the passage of the Compassionate Use Act in California. It names names of people who claimed this law would be an absolute pandora’s box. People like former drug czar Barry McCaffrey, like former CA Attorney General Dan Lungren, like Robert Novak.
Zimmerman and Fratello call these people out, ten years later. They say what needs to be said: You were wrong. You predicted pandemonium, and instead we’ve seen order. You predicted that the floodgates of drug abuse would be opened, and instead we’ve seen significant decreases in marijuana use.
It’s not the worst thing in the world to be wrong. Everybody makes mistakes. But in the arena of drug policy it’s interesting how often the experts seem to have no idea what they’re talking about. The more mistakes they make, and the more they tell us to “leave peace to the experts,” the more difficult their sales pitch will become.