Attorney General Eric Holder recently appeared with several actors from the HBO series ‘The Wire’ to discuss the plight of children exposed to the drug culture. It seems the program, co-produced by David Simon and Ed Burns, is a real hit at the Justice Department. President Obama is also a big fan. In fact, AG Holder is so impressed with The Wire he ordered Simon and Burns to produce at least one additional season.
“I want to speak directly to Mr. Burns and Mr. Simon. Do another season of ‘The Wire.’ That’s actually at a minimum….if you don’t do a season, do a movie. We’ve done HBO movies; this is a series that deserves a movie. I want another season or I want a movie. I have a lot of power Mr. Burns and Mr. Simon.”
I sat next to Ed Burns (an ex-cop and school teacher) at a roundtable discussion of the drug war a few years ago. He told me the war on drugs would continue indefinitely even though it has proved to be an utter failure. As most fans of The Wire appreciate, the acclaimed series featured the futility of locking up low-level drug dealers. While the series depicted drug dealers is an unflattering (and completely unsentimental) light, politicians, publishers and police officers scarcely fared better.
Eric Holder and President Obama love the show but appear to have missed the primary point.
Now David Simon has responded to AG Holder’s request.
“The Attorney-General’s kind remarks are noted and are appreciated,” Simon said. “I’ve spoken to Ed Burns and we are prepared to go to work on season six of ‘The Wire’ if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanizing drug prohibition.”
Deep down, I suspect both Obama and Holder appreciate the futility of the drug war. Unfortunately, you can’t get elected (or appointed) to high office in America without demonstrating a firm commitment to militarism. Obama could denounce the war in Iraq, but he had to be for some kind of war–hence his enthusiasm for the exercise in futility unfolding in Afghanistan. The President and his Attorney General would end the drug war if it were politically feasible; but as things stand it isn’t.
This accounts for Ed Burns’ skepticism. The drug war is a hopeless mess, but no politician dares to admit the obvious. Newt Gingrich (with solid backing from friends in high places) has criticized the high cost of mass incarceration, but he would retreat from the high ground in a heart beat if he thought it was costing him politically.
We’ll see if Holder responds to Simon’s quid pro quo. I’m not holding my breath.