Obama's Cocaine Confessional Won't 'Blow' His Chances

At the moment, Republican strategists and Clinton loyalists share a common dream, an identical yearning and an increasingly forlorn hope: wishing with prayerful fervor for some revelation or scandal or personal weakness that will block Barack Obama's candidacy for president.

In that context, The Washington Post raises the pre-emptive question of the senator's direct confession (in his intimate memoir, "Dreams of My Father") that he used cocaine and marijuana in high school and college.

Much to the disappointment of his rivals in both parties, these disclosures stand no chance of derailing his potential campaign and may end up adding to Obama's unconventional appeal.

First of all, Obama is hardly the first prominent politician to acknowledge youthful indiscretions involving illegal drugs. Fourteen years ago, Bill Clinton easily survived his discussions of smoking marijuana, and drew far more criticism for his dodgy, weasel-words regarding his experience ("I smoked, but I didn't inhale") than for his one-time exposure to the demon weed.

Al Gore also admitted to dope indulgence (and reportedly became a heavy user at Harvard, which may help explain the spectacularly weird workings of his mind) as did Newt Gingrich and John Kerry. George W. Bush refused to share specifics of his own drug experience beyond a general acknowledgment of a rowdy youth ("when I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid"). Still, he did little to contradict ubiquitous reports of his consumption of booze, marijuana and even cocaine.

If the American people managed to elect (twice) a stonewalling, wealthy frat boy from a spectacularly privileged family despite his reported involvement with illegal substances, they will readily forgive (and even embrace) a mixed-race kid from a troubled background whose father abandoned him in his infancy and who wrote candidly, long before his presidential campaign, of his regrettable participation in the drug culture.

Obama suggests in his books that he used marijuana and "blow" to ease the pain of his ongoing struggle to define his racial identity, and that association makes it all but unthinkable that even the most ruthless political operative would attempt to make an issue of long-ago substance abuse.

Michael Medved, best-selling author of "Right Turns" and "The Shadow Presidents," hosts a syndicated daily radio talk show focusing on the intersection of politics and pop culture. He blogs at http://michaelmedved.townhall.com/

In fact, Obama's pre-campaign confessions only add to the seductive sense that there's something fresh and unprecedented about his candidacy. He's not only the first serious candidate of color and 10 years younger than any of his prominent rivals. He's also the first presidential possibility in memory who admitted to his drug involvement long before he embarked on a national campaign.

So far, everything about the 2008 race suggests that the American people powerfully crave new and different above more of the same -- and that's wonderful news for Obama and a serious obstacle for the likes of Hillary Clinton, John McCain, John Kerry, John Edwards and even Al Gore. This election may represent the first time in recent history that a prior run for president or vice president doesn't constitute a formidable advantage.

In that sense, Obama's drug confessions only add to the sense that he's a radically different sort of candidate -- and it's hard to see how the confessions will work against him.

At this point, the senator's potential opponents in both parties need to find a way to make him look less daring and distinctive and refreshing. Republicans in particular should emphasize the senator's conventionally liberal voting record and policy positions that echo the tired old lefty nostrums of Ted Kennedy.

His pose as a "new kind of politician" has far more to do with his transracial identity and persuasive rhetorical style than it does with his political platform. With Hillary apparently determined to burnish her own centrist credentials, she will need to focus her campaign on demonstrating to primary voters and the public at large that Obama doesn't qualify as a real "New Democrat" in any sense of the term.

Michael Medved, best-selling author of "Right Turns" and "The Shadow Presidents," hosts a syndicated daily radio talk show focusing on the intersection of politics and pop culture. He blogs at http://michaelmedved.townhall.com/

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