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Now That We've Forgiven Barack Obama's Drug Use, Can We Forgive Everyone Else Too?

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Note: I posted this a few weeks ago, but withdrew it so I could use some of the language in a Op-ed which was rejected by The Washington Post (probably for being too awesome). I repost it today in response to Obama's recent rejection of marijuana decriminalization.

One of the most fascinating developments of the '08 presidential primaries has been the rising taboo against criticizing the candidates for their youthful experimentation with drugs. We've come a long way since "I didn't inhale," but is this really an evolving discourse surrounding drug use in American life or merely a truce between the privileged press and political classes?

It began with the resignation of Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaign co-chair following barbed remarks about Barack Obama's past drug use. Now, a comment by BET founder and Clinton supporter Robert L. Johnson is drawing similar condemnations:

Johnson said the Clintons have been "deeply and emotionally involved in black issues — when Barack Obama was doin' something in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doin,' but he said it in his book."
The Clinton campaign later put out statement in which Johnson claimed he was referring not to drug use but to community organizing.

The Obama campaign Monday said that story does not wash. "His tortured explanation doesn’t hold up against his original statement," campaign press secretary Bill Burton said in a statement. [Politico]

Clearly, conventional wisdom now holds that voters don't think past drug use rises to the level of relevance in a presidential campaign. To even mention such a thing is considered so rude and toxic that doing so reflects more poorly on the messenger than the target. And this is the Most Important Job in the World we're interviewing for.

What we're witnessing here is notable to be sure. But is this really a signal that our society is maturing in its attitude about drug use, or just another example of the class-based prejudice that ignores drug experimentation among the educated and upwardly-mobile, while police continue to flatten poor communities with their massive drug war hammers?

As rare and encouraging as it is find the media directing its guile towards the accuser and not the user, we still live in a society that collects urine from millions of blue-collar Americans as a method of assessing their job qualifications. We still live in a society that revokes aid for higher education from students with drug convictions, a society that revokes low-income housing and food stamps from poor people for engaging in the exact same behavior whose mere mention is now off-limits even in the no-holds-barred realm of presidential politics. And, unbelievably, we live in society where felony disenfranchisement is so widespread it can change the outcome of these same elections in which the criminal histories of the candidates are never to be discussed.

Now that our pundits and politicians have elected to shield one another from the consequences of their own indulgence, will they bestow the blessings of this grand enlightenment on the rest of us? Perhaps, but not until the people hold these high offices hostage and demand equal justice from the hypocrites who quibble over the contents of their autobiographies while fathers of four wait for their records to be expunged so they can apply at Home Depot.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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unmentionable

I fully believe the reason talking about prior drug use is prohibited in politics is to avoid the issue.The last thing they want is to have the drug war become a debate for all the world to see. As long as the issue is avoided the they can debate the same issues and continue to ignore the problem. The subject is uncharted territory and could cost them dearly if they choose the wrong side. The entire establishment profits from the drug war in one way or another. Like any large corporation with huge profits it will be hard to take down. The main stream press seems to be the in the best position to force the issue, and force the issue it will have to be, for a debate. Mark my words the issue will just pass by and the public at large will continue to pay the price. The day's of counting on the press have long since passed, now the subjects can be better controlled in more way's than one.

lowell

Only the the Dem side

Clearly, conventional wisdom now holds that voters don't think past drug use rises to the level of relevance in a presidential campaign.

That's just on the Democratic side. If Obama is nominated, expect to see it used against him, indirectly and through innuendo, by the McCain campaign. Recently, McCain denigrating Obama's knowledge of military affairs, said that the Illinois senator "doesn't know an RPG from a bong."

rachelrachel

Yes its true, it will

Yes its true, it will defintely be used as a wepon if Obama is nominated. Remember, the average democrat who is voting in the primary might think that mentioning past drug use is so "rude and toxic that doing so reflects more poorly on the messenger." However, this is not necessarily true of the average AMERICAN, and especially not of the former republicans that are now considering voting for a dem, because of the enormous umber of failures in the Bush administration. Many of these people will think that Obama's past drug use is an issue and the Republicans know this and will use it against him in the race if he is nominated.

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