Did you know that white men are good for little more than making crystal meth? And that Americans are proudly belligerent and ignorant? At least according to Wonkette founder Ana Marie Cox, as expressed Friday night on "Real Time with Bill Maher" with her formulaic snark.
Cox was a guest on the show, along with GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, actor Rob Lowe and left-wing journalist Matt Taibbi, and talking with them about drug decriminalization when she made the first of two gratuitous swipes, first at American men of pale skin hue, then at Americans in general. (Video, audio after the jump)
On the plus side, it was decidedly satisfying to see Hunter come across as funnier and more gracious than Cox, a longtime darling of the left --
COX: It's because they're targeting scary people, not scary drugs, right? (referring to police making drug arrests). I mean, like, if drugs were in the hands of a white person they're less scary, but if they're in the hands of a black person they're somehow scarier.
TAIBBI: Right, right. Exactly.
COX: And that's how it's always been with drug laws.
COX: I mean, I think one of the reasons we're seeing a very welcome push for decriminalization and reform is because finally white guys in the Midwest, you know, the meth, uh ....
HUNTER: We're finally good for something.
COX (half-hearted laugh): ... you know, the meth epidemic (belatedly laughter from Maher and audience to Hunter's quip), you're good for making meth, yes!
MAHER (too much even for him): Oh come on.
COX: The meth epidemic and the heroin epidemic have, like, turned up in white communities and they're making people rethink this.
A few minutes later, Cox said this after Maher cited a Washington Post survey in which only one in six respondents could locate Ukraine on a map (audio) --
You have to admit that, like, belligerence and ignorance is a proud American tradition. I mean, we've had it in the White House, you know, not to long ago. (tentative laughter, applause from audience). I think, I think we are getting smarter, I do.
Belligerence and ignorance "is" a proud American tradition, you say? Imagine my relief to hear, like, you think we're, like, I mean, getting smarter.
Cox's churlish swipe at Americans as proudly ignorant made me wonder even more about the wisdom of her earlier claim that crystal meth and heroin have "turned up" in white communities and made people "rethink" drug legalization. Put another way, it wasn't until drug abuse began hurting whites that they started caring about it.
But if that were true, wouldn't evidence of this appear in the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a massive annual collection of data involving 70,000 respondents? Cox's claim falls apart when you look at the most recent NSDUH, which covers the decade from 2002 to 2012.
In that time frame, "illicit drug use among persons aged 12 or older" for blacks in the preceding month rose from 9.7 to 11.3 percent. While this is less than two percentage points, it is much larger in percentage terms -- 16.4 percent.
Among whites in the same period, illicit drug use increased from 8.5 to 9.2 percent -- .7 percentage point, an 8.2 overall increase, exactly half that as seen among blacks.
Among Hispanics, the pattern was comparable to that for blacks -- 7.2 to 8.3 percent, or 15.3 higher in percentage terms. For Asians, the increase was much smaller, 3.5 to 3.7 percent (5.7 percent higher).
That a widespread perception exists of drug use spiking among white Americans is probably true, fueled by the recent overdose deaths of white celebrities (Corey Monteith, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and popularity of cable shows such as "Breaking Bad" (with its anti-hero protagonist literally named White). But perception does not yet equal reality, and anyone who professes scorn for ignorance shouldn't confuse the two.