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January 3, 2007
The Nature Of Youthful Indiscretions

... is that they should be handled discreetly. However, the tabloidesque nature of national politics over the last generation has eliminated discretion, and it appears the next example of this will be Barack Obama. The Washington Post manages to both raise Obama's youthful choices on drugs and then question their applicability to a man two decades past their use:

Long before the national media spotlight began to shine on every twist and turn of his life's journey, Barack Obama had this to say about himself: "Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. . . . I got high [to] push questions of who I was out of my mind."

The Democratic senator from Illinois and likely presidential candidate offered the confession in a memoir written 11 years ago, not long after he graduated from law school and well before he contemplated life on the national stage. At the time, 20,000 copies were printed and the book seemed destined for the remainders stacks.

Today, Obama, 45, is near the top of polls on potential Democratic presidential contenders, and "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" has regularly been on the bestseller lists, with 800,000 copies in print. Taken along with his latest bestseller, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," Obama has become a genuine publishing phenomenon.

Obama's revelations were not an issue during his Senate campaign two years ago. But now his open narrative of early, bad choices, including drug use starting in high school and ending in college, as well as his tortured search for racial identity, are sure to receive new scrutiny.

I'm not sure why. I suppose I could, as Democratic political consultant Anita Dunn says, "cast the first stone" if I were so inclined. I'm one of the few of my generation (which includes Obama) who never tried pot or other illegal substances. Since that makes me "sinless" in this context -- and in this context only -- I guess I have the moral authority to proclaim him disqualified.

Instead, though, I wonder what purpose that serves. Are we to argue that anyone who used pot in high school and college will forever be banned from high public office? (Stop snickering -- you know what I mean.) No one goes through life without making mistakes, after all, and the mistakes Obama describes have been made by plenty of people in my generation, regardless of skin color, economic strata, or location. It would make a big difference if Obama or anyone else was still making these mistakes, but it looks like those issues are twenty years past or more -- hardly indicative of the man he his now, or the value of his talents to his constituents.

George Bush went through the same thing during his presidential campaigns, with his history of hard drinking and references to other abuses that never got confirmation. Despite the lunacy of some on the Left -- Martin Sheen once referred to Bush as a "white-knuckle drunk" without benefit of having ever met the man -- he has handled himself perfectly well in office. Bill Clinton, who famously "didn't inhale", didn't get stoned in the Oval Office; his mid-life indiscretions were of an entirely different nature, and that particular quality was well known before he got elected in 1992. People make mistakes, and certainly we're entitled to consider them -- but this seems like a strange line to draw, and a disqualification that would include a large percentage of people born after World War II.

I'm no fan of Barack Obama, but once again, I have to think that we have better grounds on which to oppose him than whether he smoked pot in the late 1970s. If not, perhaps I am the only person qualified to be President -- and that should really scare the hell out of you. (via Memeorandum)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 3, 2007 6:42 AM

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» The Measure of a Man from The Moderate Voice
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» Obama’s youthful indiscretions from Polimom Says
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