Justin Guiffre: Obama’s drug disclosure

The youth voters of America are taking charge in the 2008 presidential elections. In the past, the older voting demographic was the safe bet, always performing on Election Day when the young demographics failed to actually show up at the polls. But now, the surging support for Sen. Barack Obama (D – Ill.) can be attributed to an unprecedented energized youth vote.

A source of this, it seems, comes from Obama’s honesty about his adolescence, part of which included drug use. A recent New York Times article now claims that his drug use may have been overplayed to garner support from his strongest demographic. But the truth is that regardless of whether Obama struggled with drugs or was a master of moderation, both accurately describe aspects of drug use in America – something that deserves an honest discussion on the national political scene.

A good way of approaching the drug use question is to think of Obama’s usage in relative terms. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, roughly 14.6 million Americans use marijuana every year and of these the vast majority fit the demographic ages of high school and college students. It is no wonder why a candidate willing to be realistic about marijuana and other drugs is going to speak to a group that is having similar experiences.

There is no shortage of progressive student groups who want to be heard on everything from genocide to global warming. At GW the group GWNorml represents a contingency that supports the reform of marijuana laws. Erin Taylor, GWNorml’s president, reflected, “Sen. Obama’s drug use is not out of the ordinary” adding, “honesty on the subject is far better than concocting ridiculous ways of denying it.” For America’s youth, marijuana and cocaine aren’t fads that happened in the 70’s; it is what we face when we get back to our dorms after class.

An interesting thing about Obama’s drug use is how matter-of-fact he really is about the topic. In his book “Dreams from My Father,” he addresses his adolescent usage so straightforwardly it can be disarming. He states, “Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.” When asked if he inhaled, Obama quips, “that was the point.” This might be interpreted as just another slight at the Clintons, but other than that Obama’s rhetoric on his drug use is relatively limited. However, do a Google news search for “Obama drug use” and nearly 3,000 hits appear. A large part of this debate has been a desire by the media to focus in on a small part of Obama’s past. I imagine it’s a hard argument to make that the Obama campaign really feels snorting coke is a good means of garnering political support.

For myself, and I believe a good portion of our generation, the fact that Obama is clear about his drug use gives him an odd sort of qualification on the topic. I am not saying it’s necessary to have smoked a joint to write policy on marijuana; but whether you condone it or not, his firsthand experiences of narcotics do provide a kind of insight. Being one of the estimated 65 million Americans to use marijuana far from makes Obama a pothead or unqualified to hold office. With that many people having used the drug, it is unrealistic to believe more politicians than we know haven’t used it. I would rather have a candidate who is honest about their past at a cost than someone who thinks they can gain by keeping it quiet and clouded.

Even if he did exaggerate the details, which is of course a mystery of the political world we may never know, it becomes fairly irrelevant considering the breath of fresh air provided to the issue. It can be debated day and night just how crystal clear Obama’s memory of using drugs is. To me that seems kind like a logical fallacy. The real importance is that a generation has found a politician who is willing to realistically discuss the issues they face.

The writer, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet


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