Drug Testing Signals a Meaner Conservatism


There is an unapologetic harshness at the core of modern American conservatism. It’s an increasingly stingy, mean-spirited, intransigent philosophy that left unchecked almost always results in good news for the privileged and bad news for everybody else.

This overall disregard for the most vulnerable among us is nowhere more obvious than the sound-byte, simplistic policy proposals emanating from the 2016 Republican presidential contingent:

Immigration: Send ’em back

Planned Parenthood: Cut ’em off

Obamacare: Redo

Common Core: Undo

Suffering folks are increasingly caught up in half-baked conservative strategies to save pennies on the dollar. No one has to tell that to the millions of public assistance recipients in the thirteen states that have implemented, or are considering, mandated drug testing (see monitored urine screens) as the latest condition for receiving benefits.

Billed as a means to divert public dollars from subsidizing drug use and distribution, the idea is a solution in search of a problem: to date state-sponsored screening programs indicate drug use rates among benefit recipients range between 0.002% and 8.3% – well below the national drug use rate of 9.4%.

The bill for these programs is $1 million and counting – a waste of precious funding critics rightly point out as more states mull over cost/benefit ratios.

A second if less obvious flaw surfaces as states add testing to their contingencies for granting benefits: recipients who genuinely struggle with drug addiction are disincentivized from seeking treatment once admission of their problem results in reduced or denied assistance.

Of additional concern is the further stigmatization of our sisters and brothers who live in poverty. In an economic system built around exaggerated bootstrap narratives and predisposed to reward wealth with wealth, relying on others for one’s basic needs is tantamount to moral weakness.

Undeterred by the damning outcomes and personal affronts, proponents of this shameful concept continue to look for new and better ways to impose screening programs for those receiving public assistance. (See Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker’s proposal to expand testing in his state to include those receiving unemployment compensation.)

The ACLU and other activist organizations have been effective in their mission to dismantle screening programs in Florida, as well as dissuade other states from activating new ones.

But whatever the fate of screening-for-benefits initiatives, there is behind them a singular meanness in the name of fairness. And as with many a conservative push before, it’s the ones on the margins who feel the mean.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Jackson, Ohio. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2015


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