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Antidrug Dynamic Duo

Yes, they're political opposites. But Mario Cuomo, a former Democratic governor of New York, and William Bennett, a Republican who worked as President Bush's drug policy coordinator, do have something in common: They're both dedicated to the fight against illegal drug use, and they both agree that television is a good place to do it.

The two won't officially assume leadership of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a coalition of communications professionals, for a few weeks. But they're making their intentions clear now: to spend $350 million of government and private money to broadcast antidrug messages during prime-time TV hours.

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Remember the "this is your brain on drugs" ad from a few years back? Almost everyone who watched TV at the time would still recognize it. Children and teens often quoted it. But there hasn't been anything like it since. Kids regularly hear pro-drug messages; the antidrug message must be equally insistent. We would, however, counsel messages with moral force, not just hyper scare impact.

No one is suggesting that an advertising campaign alone will solve the problem of teenage drug use. As Mr. Bennett says, there must be a sustained effort on the part of Congress to do "a lot of other things," too. President Clinton, announcing a long-term antidrug strategy last winter, said those "other things" would include educating citizens, treating addiction, and cracking down on drug dealers.

But advertising plays an important role simply because it works. "I don't know anyone," Mr. Cuomo says, "who is immune to prime-time television."

What's good about this campaign is what's been called "odd" - the pairing of Bennett and Cuomo. Yet this should be a bipartisan effort. As Cuomo said, there are conservative Republicans who will argue, "Don't use government money to fight this on TV." There are liberal Democrats who will say "Your message is not my message." But common sense comes down in the middle. It says "Deliver a strong message against drugs." And that, Cuomo said, has nothing to do with politics.

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