High office takes on new meaning for German politician | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.07.2014
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High office takes on new meaning for German politician

Politicians used to get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Now it’s more likely to be with their fingers round a pipe or syringe. Social Democrat Michael Hartmann is the latest pol to go out on a high.

Give credit where it’s due. Michael Hartmann – a balding 51-year-old with a well-fed face – is apparently a lot wilder than you’d have supposed given the position he held until yesterday: Social Democratic Interior Affairs parliamentary spokesman.

Hartmann was forced to step down from that post after allegations in the always-up-for-a-scandal "Bild" newspaper that he’d used crystal meth. Police in Berlin are currently investigating Hartmann, who also sits on a committee supervising Germany’s intelligence-gathering services.

Ironically, Hartmann recently complained in an interview of not having time to get to know the fun side of the German capital. And unfortunately for his credibility, during his 2013 re-election he also came out against the legalization of so-called soft drugs like marijuana. Maybe, they weren’t strong enough.

A law-and-order politician with a taste for hard drugs? If the allegations are proven, Hartmann might be a first in straight-laced Germany. But internationally he joins some pretty (in)famous company.

Guys just wanna have fun

The grand old man of politicians-on-drugs, if you will, is former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry. In 1990 Barry, whose early political resumé included founding a group called Blacks Against Narcotics and Genoicide (BANG), was busted by the FBI smoking crack in a hotel with an ex-girlfriend. Amazingly, and perhaps hopefully for Hartmann, Barry was re-elected to a fourth term as mayor in 1995 – despite having spent six months in jail on a drugs conviction.

Attitudes toward recreational drug use in America and the West in general have loosened considerably since then. In 1992, Bill Clinton felt compelled to deny that he’s ever inhaled when grudgingly admitting he’d smoked weed at university. By 2008, Barack Obama could freely own up to trying cocaine and marijuana, famously quipping when asked if he had inhaled the latter: “I thought that was the point.”

Clinton, Obama and even Barry are lightweights compared to Toronto mayor Rob Ford. After repeatedly denying he smoked crack, Ford was forced to admit as much after being caught on video… er…smoking crack. He denied lying, however, saying: “Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors.”

Politicians blaming use of socially unacceptable drugs on an uncontrollable addiction to socially acceptable ones has become something of a trend within a trend. After getting nailed buying cocaine from an undercover cop last year, Republican Congressman Trey Radel from Florida passed the blame to “the disease of alcoholism.” Experts refer to this as “the gun didn’t know I was loaded” defense.

“Wasting away the moments that make up a dull day”

For a variety of reasons, and despite the tones of outrage adopted in many reports, journalists and readers love politicians-on-drugs stories. For one thing they lend a bit of humanity to otherwise insufferably goody-goody figures. Recent UK politicians who have admitted trying marijuana include Labour MP Harriet Harman, Former Home Secretary Jaqui Smith, Former Health Secretary Andy Burnham and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling – any one of whom on their own would be enough to kill even the hardiest of buzzes.

Moreover, drug revelations also remind us of the obvious – that politicians are a class of people particularly prone to lying. The ability to evade and dissemble is, after all, a main part of the job. Why should the public not enjoy seeing the men and women who regularly raise others’ taxes and their own salaries squirm on the hot seat?

It would be unfair, of course, to tar brush all politicians as goody-two-shoe sycophants and hypocrites. Much of what politicians do is unremarkable nuts-and-bolts minutiae required to keep democratic societies running, and that perhaps played a role in Michael Hartmann’s fall from grace.

One particular poignant detail is the final tweet he sent just before the translucent crystals hit the fan. At 10:21 on July 2, Hartmann wrote. “Interior committee meeting with 45 agenda points started. Including registration right.”

Probably, lots of normal people would need a mind-altering substance to sit through stuff like that.

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