I know other progressives are looking to report Nancy’s legacy as one deeply marred by her simplistic 80s anti-drug campaign. And they absolutely should bring attention to the moral admonitions and legislative efforts that began the Drug War in earnest. Nancy and Ron have the blood and shattered lives of millions on their heads for criminalizing all illicit drug use and enacting global zero-tolerance for the drug trade. The harm stretches from the Gray Wastes described by Ta-nehesi Coates to the current Berlin Wall-like situation on our southwestern border. The estimated casualties of the drug war are hard to calculate, but the effects been largely negative. Those progressives are correct.
Yet Nancy Reagan is never given enough credit for how well she ran the country through her husband, who was frequently laid low with cancers, gunshot wounds, and encroaching Alzheimer’s. “Nancy-pants” was by far his best ally and source of strength. Though her anti-drug efforts and general opinion of drug users was dead wrong, she thought it was vital to get young people off of drugs. Her intentions were good. She and Ron believed they were doing the right thing. Even though Nancy probably had a crystal ball in addition to her astrologers, she was unable to see the ramifications down the road.
“After [the Iran-Contra scandal], his approval ratings were abysmal,” the historian said. “There was talk of impeachment. She was perhaps his most forceful adviser in counseling him to meet with [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev and come to some sort of deal that led to the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty to cool tensions. It encouraged Reagan to go away from hard-line, hawkish policies and make peace and agree to reduce the nuclear arsenal. She played a big role in ending the Cold War.”
-Kathy Olmsted, a professor at the University of California at Davis
Quoted in The Washington Times
Because of Mrs. Reagan’s political involvement, a woman’s compassionate influence joined with the massive anti-armament movement to end the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse. It was a trade off I can still live with. National drug policy would have gone in the direction it did even if Nancy had a more effective strategy to end the negative consequences of drug abuse. She did effectively avert a possible nightmare future full of Kurt Vonnegut’s “fates worse than death.”
Nancy Reagan’s influence over the Most Celebrated leader of the free world may be why we are still around to work on our drug problem.