In his column this week, Bill O’Reilly discusses how many on the left feel sorry for drug dealers, excusing their behavior as a form of human weakness in need of helpful healing (Bill O’Reilly Article).  O’Reilly is correct, many social liberals view drug dealers with an unwarranted degree of sympathy.  The soft stance on profiting from human weakness certainly removes the stigma that once made it a dishonorable enterprise.  However, viewing drug dealers sympathetically is only half of the equation.  The other half, perhaps the more problematic half, is the view that being involved in the illegal drug trade is glamorous and a demonstration of success. 

In low-income and crime-ridden areas, it is easy to understand why the weak, those incapable of critical thinking and self-control, see the local drug dealer as an example of strength.  He has the most expensive clothes, the most ornate and pricey car, and he never looks like he is working very hard.  People with corrupt definitions of terms like honor, dignity, and success aspire to reach such entrepreneurial heights while continuing to live a life of laziness.  Monetary rewards and a feeling of self-sufficiency are strong motivators for behavior.  In communities where most people life off of government handouts, the drug dealer is seen as ambitious and successful.  Even though the placement of criminals at the top of the ghetto hierarchy is immoral, and a cause for children in poor communities to aim low when planning their futures, the culture is primarily marginalized and invisible to most Americans.

In a large segment of popular culture, plainly in view of all Americans, drug dealers are viewed as being celebrities.  Whether the dealer sells marijuana or prescription pills on a school campus, or distributes cocaine and ecstasy in a nightclub, he is considered to be in the highest caste.  Glamorized in movies, on television, and through rap “music”, the drug dealer is attributed with a mystique.  He is the one with an entourage in school, the rebel the immature girls want to date.  The “steroids and silicone” crowd comprising the upper echelon of the nightclub clique flock to the drug dealer like he is a movie star.  Speaking of the “steroids and silicone” crowd, take a look around if you belong to a trendy gym or fitness center.  The big, muscular guy with the tattoos and the earrings?  Yes, he might be a drug dealer.

There are endless examples of people who have chosen to participate in the drug trade even though they were financially comfortable.  Why?  The glamour and prestige in popular culture.  I personally investigated a man in his 20’s who ambitiously cornered the ecstasy market in a certain city.  He made enough money to open and develop three successful businesses in the housing market.  He could have easily walked away from the drug trade, and likely would have gone the rest of his life without paying the consequences for the risks he took.  But he couldn’t bring himself to let go of the celebrity status he held.  He continued to invest in the drug trade for quick disposable income to finance his glamorous life beyond what his legitimate businesses could provide.  More importantly for him, he was treated like a celebrity in the nightclub crowd.  Whenever he set up a corporate tent at local events such as parades and festivals, the tent was filled with strippers and beautiful people.  He lived the life until he was caught and sent to federal prison, his business assets seized by the government.

As Bill O’Reilly asserts, a soft-hearted approach to addressing drug dealers is a problem.  It lessens the deterrent of facing serious penalties in the justice system, and it nullifies the deterrent of being stigmatized as a criminal.  While these important reasons to avoid being involved in the drug trade are weakened by treating drug dealers as victims, a powerful motivation to engage in the black market is created when they are glamorized in popular culture.  For many drug dealers, the monetary rewards are second to the social rewards.  Selling drugs makes an average guy a prestigious business man in the ghetto, the big man on campus, or a legend in the nightclub scene.  Apparently, living the glamorous life of a celebrity is too intoxicating to quit no matter what legal risks a drug dealer faces.