The news that Rush Limbaugh will be spending the month trying to kick his OxyContin habit provides a tempting opportunity to kick a thug while he's down. Rush, after all, told his audience just eight years ago that "we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. And the laws are good because we know what happens to people in societies and neighborhoods which become consumed by them. And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up."
So, is it time to give the king of talk radio a taste of his own medicine and let him see what's become of America's penal system after 30 years of "tough on crime" hysterics? After all, in the same broadcast he specifically called for the imprisonment of more white drug offenders as a solution to the well-known racial disparities in the justice system. To quote the man himself, "What this says to me is that too many whites are getting away with drug use. Too many whites are getting away with drug sales. Too many whites are getting away with trafficking in this stuff."
The image of Rush behind bars, ranting away to his fellow inmates about the evils of tax-and-spend prison guards, certainly warms the cockles. And a little spell in the can wouldn't necessarily mean the end of his career; after all, ex-cons G. Gordon Liddy, Chuck Colson and Oliver North haven't let convictions get in the way of their right-wing talk-radio gigs. And with Rush's prior experience, he'd doubtless jump back to the top of the ratings pile in a flash.
Nevertheless, when a hypocrite says one thing and does another it stands to reason that one of the things is right and the other wrong, and in this case Limbaugh is doing the right thing. Drug addiction is a serious problem, for the addicts, for those around them and for the society at large, and those addicted need help. As Rush has apparently now realized, prison is not a particularly good venue for procuring that help. The tragedy here is less that America's leading loudmouth lout will apparently go free than that tens of thousands of other addicts -- mostly poor, minorities or both -- are currently behind bars when they, like Rush, should be receiving treatment aimed at making them better.
Historically, advocates of such policies have not found a friend in Rush Limbaugh, who in 1993 described the theory that drug addiction is a disease as a way of "rationalizing all this irresponsibility and all the choices people are making." Rush further noted that "[a]ll these Hollywood celebrities say the reason they're weird and bizarre is because they were abused by their parents. So we're going to pay for that kind of rehab, too, and we shouldn't." One hopes that he'll have a new perspective by the time this issue leaves the stands and will explain to his army of dittoheads why we should. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see when the "it's not about sex, it's about the rule of law" crowd will dust off their old talking points. But if, as we suspect, they're lost somewhere beneath yellowed copies of the balanced-budget amendment it might take a while.