Demon Rum and Other Excuses

The year's highlights in blame shifting


We've all been there, perhaps as recently as last night. You have a few drinks, and the next thing you know, you're smoking crack.

What? You've consumed alcohol on many occasions, but you've never smoked crack? As it turns out, you're not alone. Survey data indicate that 82 percent of Americans have consumed alcohol, but only 3 percent have tried crack; another 11 percent have consumed cocaine in powder form.

So why did Toronto Mayor Rob Ford think he was helping his case when he confessed in November that he "probably" smoked crack "in one of my drunken stupors"? Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) seemed to have a similar idea after he was busted for cocaine possession a couple of weeks later. "I struggle with the disease of alcoholism," he said, "and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice."

By blaming their occasional cocaine use on their habitual drunkenness, Ford and Radel won a 2013 Bouncing Buck, my award for memorable attempts to deflect responsibility. Here are the other winners:

Mythical Magazines. Last January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rammed new gun controls through the state legislature so fast there was no time to read the bill, let alone debate it. Two months later, he admitted the seven-round magazines mandated by the law did not exist but insisted haste had nothing to do with that embarrassing mistake, which he dismissed as a mere "inconsistency" requiring a "technical correction." Anyway, he said, the fix was simple: allow 10-round magazines but tell people not to put more than seven rounds in them.

Plan Obsolescence. Last fall, when millions of Americans began receiving notices that their health insurance had been canceled as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's mandates, despite President Obama's oft-repeated promise that they could keep their current coverage, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett insisted on Twitter that "nothing in #Obamacare forces people out of their health plans." The president himself blamed the cancellations on "bad-apple insurers."

Lying About Spying. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee in March that the National Security Agency (NSA) does not "collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans." A few months later, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency routinely collects every American's phone records, Clapper variously portrayed his answer as an accurate statement, an honest mistake, and a noble lie. That last explanation was an implicit rebuke to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for asking about the NSA's snooping at a public hearing, thereby forcing poor Clapper to give the "least untruthful" answer he could.

Shortening Shortage. In a speech last August, Attorney General Eric Holder decried "draconian mandatory minimum sentences," implying that thousands of people in federal prison do not belong there. But that is at least partly the fault of Holder's boss, who has been stingier with commutations than any other president in recent history. Obama himself referred to "thousands of inmates" serving excessively long terms in federal prison when he announced eight commutations last month, raising his grand total to nine. He passed the buck to Congress, even though he had just demonstrated that he need not wait for new legislation to free federal prisoners whose sentences he deems unjust.

Chemical Reactions. In a report issued last June, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) sounded the alarm about synthetic, quasi-legal drugs such as "spice," "bath salts," and "meow-meow," saying "the international drug control system is floundering" due to "the speed and creativity" of underground chemists. It warned that the new, ever-changing compounds, which are always a step ahead of the latest law, "have not been tested for safety" and "can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs." Those safer, "traditional" drugs would be the ones that governments have arbitrarily chosen to ban, thereby driving consumers to more hazardous substitutes. Not surprisingly, the UNODC blamed creative chemists rather than heedless prohibitionists.