Newt Gingrich: 'AA Saved My Life' - Page 3

By Walter Armstrong 12/12/11

The much-maligned Republican front-runner says the Big Book made him see the light. But his critics are not convinced.

(page 3)

On the challenging issues involving treatment for addiction and alcoholism, Gingrich's attention wanes markedly. The AA-inspired candidate has offered only boiler-plate statements promoting faith-based rehabilitation, though he is beginning to backpedal from his former advocacy of mandatory sentencing of addicts to state-sponsored rehabs. “I don’t think actually locking up users is a very good thing,” he said in the Yahoo News interview. “I think finding ways to sanction them and to give them medical help and to get them to detox is a more logical long-term policy.” How this policy differs from the status quo and where the funding will come from are the kind of specific problems on which the weak-on-the-execution Gingrich typically founders.

“Addictive drugs deprive you of full citizenship and they lead you to a dependency which is antithetical to being an American,” the AA-inspired candidate said, laying on the stigma pretty thick.

Though he prides himself on his keen "futurist" predilections, two decades of advances in the science of addiction have apparently passed him by. Gingrich’s take-no-prisoners drug policy remains strikingly stuck in 1994, oblivious to the swift-changing addiction landscape, from medicine to morality. That addiction is a brain disease afflicting alcoholics no less than crack heads or junkies (let alone gamblers) seems an idea that has never registered. The corollary, that chronic diseases like addiction demand public-health interventions rather than interdiction and stigmatization, seems equally foreign to him.

And for a man who says he was saved by the Big Book and the Twelve And Twelve, he seems deficient in the very quality—empathy—that drives the thriving fellowship in the rooms. Gingrich may have found his Higher Power, but he seems to have missed AA's deeper point as articulated in the Twelfth Step: "the art of helping others and selfless service." “Addictive drugs deprive you of full citizenship and they lead you to a dependency which is antithetical to being an American,” he said in November, laying on the stigma pretty thick.

Gingrich was not always a drug warrior, however. In 1981, soon after he was elected to the House, he drafted and introduced legislation to make marijuana legal for medical purposes based on the positive results of the first-ever study of the pot for pain—mainly for patients with cancer and glaucoma (AIDS had not yet exploded). A year later he published a letter in the Journal of the American Medial Association decrying the federal ban as anti-science and Big Government. “Federal policies do not reflect a factual or balanced assessment of marijuana’s use as a medicant,” he wrote.

Now, as president, he says that he would deploy all available federal enforcement powers to crack down on medical marijuana sales even in states where it is legal.

How did this onetime proponent of medical marijuana come to advocate the death penalty for drug importers ? Gingrich's record is unclear on this question, and repeated calls to his Campaign Headquarters in Atlanta were not returned.

But over the years he has never allowed consistency to hold back his ambition. In 1996, when asked by the Wall Street Journal, how his hardcore anti-pot advocacy squared with his own admitted use of the drug in graduate school, he said, “See, when I smoked pot it was illegal but not immoral. Now, it is illegal and immoral. The law didn’t change, only the morality…That’s why you go to jail and I don’t.”

Walter Armstrong is Articles Editor at The Fix. Additional Reporting by Luke Walker and Jed Bickman.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
walter armstron.jpeg

Walter Armstrong is the Medical Editor at  Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and the former deputy editor of The Fix. You can find him on Linkedin.