Drug Policy

Honesty in the Service of a Greater Lie

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On Tuesday, Barack Obama discussed his youthful drug use during an appearance at a Manchester, New Hampshire high school:

I made some bad decisions that I've written about. There were times when I got into drinking and experimented with drugs…There was a whole stretch of time when I didn't really apply myself a lot.

Obama's comments elicited praise from a twice-divorced, cross-dressing former New York City mayor whose hand-picked police commissioner has been indicted on corruption charges and who lately has been making a big deal out of his own willingness to admit mistakes:

I respect his honesty in doing that. I think that one of the things we need from our people who are running for office is not this pretense of perfection. The reality is all of us that run for public office, whether its governor, legislator, mayor, president—we are all human beings. If we haven't made mistakes, don't vote for us, 'cause we got some big ones that are gonna happen in the future and we won't know how to handle them.

Not surprisingly, a former Massachusetts governor known for his perfect grooming, morally upright lifestyle, and eschewal of legal as well as illegal drugs disagreed:

It's just not a good idea for people running for president of the United States who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people to talk about their personal failings while they were kids because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, "Well, I can do that too and become president of the United States." I think that was a huge error by Barack Obama…It is just the wrong way for people who want to be the leader of the free world.

Romney's position is reminiscent of the one George W. Bush took in a 1998 interview with Newsweek:

If I were you, I wouldn't tell your kids that you smoked pot unless you want 'em to smoke pot. I think it's important for leaders, and parents, not to send mixed signals. I don't want some kid saying, "Well, Governor Bush tried it."

The next year, when A.P. asked Bush what baby boomers should tell their kids about their own drug use, he replied: 

I think the baby boomer parent ought to say, "I've learned from mistakes I may or may not have made, and I'd like to share some wisdom with you, and that is don't do drugs."

It's a mystery how you learn from mistakes you haven't made, but notice that Obama basically followed Bush's script. And when Giuliani admires Obama's "honesty," it's only because the senator characterized his drug use as a mistake that held him back. If a politician said he used to smoke pot, enjoyed it, suffered no harm as a result, and does not really regret it (except for the P.R. problems it presents), you can be sure Giuliani would not praise his honesty. Romney's fear (and Bush's) is that every time a successful and prominent person admits past illegal drug use, regardless of the caveats, it undermines the government's message that even the most casual contact with these evil substances will ruin your life. It would never occur to them that the proper response is to modify the message rather than mold reality to fit it.

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  1. So, did Obama say that he should have been arrested for a victimless crime and prosecuted? Because if he didn’t, why should so many other non-connected people have that happen to them?

    Policitians are fucking disgusting. “Drugs are bad when you peasants do them, but when I do them they’re not so bad and shouldn’t result in any consequences.”

    In other words, politicians should be exempted, as usual, from the rules the rest of us must follow.

  2. …..in 1787, two days before their work was done, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention “adjourned to a tavern for some rest, and according to the bill they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 of whiskey, 22 of port, 8 of hard cider and 7 bowls of punch so large that, it was said, ducks could swim around in them.

    Then they went back to work and finished founding the new Republic. Note the 55 delegates and 54 bottles of Madeira. Which founder was slacking?

  3. Meant to say, the founders sometimes overdid it (would you call that an indiscretion or a mistake?)

  4. Of course, as we all know, Obama went on to be a junkie who sucked dick to pay for his fixes of weed (a highly addictive, gateway substance) and spread AIDS to millions of people.

  5. Say it! Just say it! “I smoked pot, and still became a successful politician.” Was that so fucking hard?

  6. It’s a mystery how you learn from mistakes you haven’t made

    Smart people learn from their mistakes.
    Even smarter people learn from other people’s mistakes.

  7. Then they went back to work and finished founding the new Republic. Note the 55 delegates and 54 bottles of Madeira. Which founder was slacking?

    Probably Samuel Addams. He just sat in a corner the whole time, spitefully mumbling, “one day, I’ll show em’ what real drinking means.”

  8. Meant to say, the founders sometimes overdid it (would you call that an indiscretion or a mistake?)

    It should be noted that people of the time were certain to have a much higher alcohol tolerance than we could ever have.

    Water circa 1776 was tantamount to playing Russian Roulette. They even had beer for kids called “short beer.”*

    *compliments of the History Channel a.k.a. the only reason to have cable…

  9. “Politicians are fucking disgusting.”

    QFMFT.

    Shows just how disgusting GWB and Mitt. And “free world”? In his universe, ain’t no such thang.

    Edwards said something just as assholeish, recently, IIRC. So he’s not free from the shovelful of scorn!

    robc – indeed!

  10. Don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad. Mmm’kay
    Mr. Mackey

  11. Now that we know everybody smokes pot, we arn’t going to legalize it because….????…???

  12. “I don’t want some kid saying, ‘Well, Governor Bush tried it.'”

    Instead, Bush goes on, the secret of my cocaine binges should be aired by others, so that kids know that, when you do drugs, you should lie about it, ‘cuz that’s what I’ll do as President.

    Any reason to think Romney would be a big fat liar?

  13. TWC-

    Have you ever read the diary of William Byrd? Very successful planter and founder of Richmond, VA. He could drink all of them under the table judging from his diary.

  14. Ron Paul’s position on the drug war is also inconsistent with his personal drug use history.

  15. Crap, that was supposed to be avocado diaboli. My cover’s blown.

  16. “It’s a mystery how you learn from mistakes you haven’t made, but notice that Obama basically followed Bush’s script. And when Giuliani admires Obama’s “honesty,” it’s only because the senator characterized his drug use as a mistake that held him back.”

    The man went to Harvard, IIRC worked for a high-powered law firm, became a US Senator (the first African-American to do so) & is currently running for POTUS, very nearly the youngest to do so. How has his drug use “held him back” ? What are these mysterious “mistakes” of which they speak ? Did he kill a hooker is Las Vegas while under the influence & then the Corlenoe family helped him cover it up ?

  17. Has there ever been an abstainer who did anything notable?

    G.W. Bush had addiction problems, but I don’t think the country is any better off for him now being a teetotaler.

  18. You know, if they were really experimenting with drugs, what was the hypothesis they were working towards proving? Was it a peer-reviewed double blind study? Or were they just getting high and having a few beers behind someone’s garage, like Good American Teenagers?

  19. I think the baby boomer parent ought to say, “I’ve learned from mistakes I may or may not have made

    How exactly does one learn from mistakes they “may not have made”?

  20. Penn Gillette is a teetotaler. Hard to believe, but there it is.

  21. What’s the statute of limitations? Why can’t we have a crusading DA indict the POTUS and all the candidates? If they were all so young when this was going on, were they with someone under 18, and therefore corrupting a minor? (or are they all lone tokers?)

  22. or rather Jillette

  23. So far I think Mayor Bloomberg is the only successful politician that said, I tried pot, and I liked it.

    I almost what to applaud his honesty, but I wonder if that’s the card the Hillary camp was holding and he knew he had to get it out first.

  24. The most telling words in my mind:

    It’s just not a good idea for people running for president of the United States who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people to talk about their personal failings while they were kids

    It just shows the glitch in the American History matrix that is the Baby Boomer generation. The idea that a politician’s life is one that is noble, full of hard work and sacrifice, and worthy of emulation could not have been sold to any American generation that came before them or since their rise. The elites shoved that misbegotten notion, ‘be like Kennedy’, down their collective throats, and the most obtuse of them (Romney, the Clintons, Huckabee) have lapped it up like gravy ever since.

  25. So far I think Mayor Bloomberg is the only successful politician that said, I tried pot, and I liked it.

    His nanny-ism aside, Bloomberg is remarkably likable.

  26. I think that Penn planned that, just to mess with people when he became famous.

    Is this your card? 3?

  27. He could drink all of them under the table judging from his diary.

    I thought that was Heidegger?

  28. Of course I learned from my mistakes. I can repeat them exactly.

  29. I thought Sullum’s last paragraph was very powerful. I also find his anti-anti-smoking posts very helpful in resisting my recently declared smoke-free workplace.

  30. His nanny-ism aside, Bloomberg is remarkably likable.

    Yes, he is. He gives off the vibes of a plain-talking New Yorker even when he’s uttering complete bullshit. Giuliani was like that too, before running for president and having nothing interesting to say any more.

    Another surprisingly likable person is Huckabee, whom I saw in an interview on BBC-A last night. Too bad I disagree with every single thing he says.

  31. His nanny-ism aside, Bloomberg is remarkably likable.

    Hmm. You and Rhywun seem to agree on this, while I find the sight of him insufferable. The smug condescension in every word he utters just makes me ill.

  32. I’m one of the very few people under age 70 who can honestly tell my kids that I never tried any illegal drugs. Also, I’ve only had sex with their father. Oddly, my position on the drug war is 100% opposite of my own experience. Maybe if I’d partied more in college I’d be a conservative today. Therefore, the lesson here is to prevent your kids from using drugs so that they’ll support repeal of the drug laws when they’re old enough to vote.

  33. Karen,

    Me, too, on the drug use part. Realizing the senselessness of the War on Drugs doesn’t require me to be under the influence of some strange substance. It’s obvious.

    If I were a drug user, I’d like to be hooked on opium, hanging out in opium dens, and making cryptic remarks that sound like wisdom but aren’t really ?

  34. Ditto Karen and PL. Ive never smoked *anything* legal or illegal either.

    I did drink before I was 21 though. The Horrors!

    Not much though. I drink much more in my late 30s than I did even in my early 20s.

    Maybe its the clear head that makes the War on Drugs such an obviously bad idea.

  35. Penn Gillette is a teetotaler. Hard to believe, but there it is.

    So’s the Nuge (Ted Nugent). And my grandad, the Mean Old White Man. He coulda used a drink, I’m tellin’ you what.

  36. I’ve never smoked anything, either. Drinking, I did in my youth, but I hardly drink at all these days.

  37. “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.”-Freewheelin’ Franklin

    Some of my friends found those to be words to live by. All but one ended up as fine, upstanding citizens.

    I still don’t want my kids doing drugs or drinking. Plenty of time for that later I tell them.

  38. Libertarians are such prudes. 🙂

  39. The smug condescension in every word he utters just makes me ill.

    A universal trait of Nanny Staters and others who fancy themselves Our Betters.

  40. Bibertarianism sickens me, too.

  41. If I were a drug user, I’d like to be hooked on opium, hanging out in opium dens, and making cryptic remarks that sound like wisdom but aren’t really.

    but you might then begin to comprehend the tree that is no tree…

  42. but you might then begin to comprehend the tree that is no tree…

    The palm tree?

  43. and what is the palm but part of the larger hand?

    it all coheres.

  44. *attempts to high-five dhex*

    Exactly man!

  45. I want to know what kind of results came from Obama’s experiments. Its not fair to tell people you did some sort of research, and then not give any hint as to the results. Most people just use these sorts of drugs to get high.

  46. CHOICES. Freedom to choose. It has always been (will always be) ALL about good choices.

    Every July 4 we celebrate our independence (aka – right to choose for ourselves). Every 4 years we choose whether or not to exercise that choice in choosing that person who has made (what we think are) the best choices.

    We are a nation of 300,000,000 citizens. Have we really reached the point where it is too much to ask that the one person we choose is a role-model of good choices?

    We all look to our role-models’ choices in making our own. Kids say, “well, she/he did it too”. Teenagers say, “It’s not fair – he/she does it too”. (or – “So what if I am using drugs? He (Obama) did it too!”)

    Employees look at their senior colleagues’ choices who look to the CEO’s choices, who look at the choices made by those “above” them. All the way up to the choices made by the president whose example is the ultimate barometer.

    What important position in business/government is filled without looking carefully at past choices to decide whether they are qualified to make future ones in our behalf? Those with a record of bad choices say, “Well, no one is perfect.” How convenient (Guiliani). When has perfection ever been the standard? It never has been. Rather the standard has been a pattern of good choices made for good reasons.

    Do we really want the role model of good choices to so dramatically lower the bar for our society?

    The strength of this nation has always been rooted in goodness, good (albeit hard) choices. If we lower this standard we do so at our own (and our children’s) peril.

  47. Every 4 years we choose whether or not to exercise that choice in choosing that person who has made . . . the best choices.

    Hmm… ok. Looks like someone needs to choose to put down the bong before making the choice to choose to post any more comments.

  48. Taylor, why are you posting a graduation ceremony speech here?

  49. Hate to break it to ya, Taylor, but any rational person doesn’t look to your typical CEO as a role model…you were alive around the turn of the century, right? This most recent one, the one before that, doesn’t really matter.

  50. “I think the baby boomer parent ought to say, ‘I’ve learned from mistakes I may or may not have made'”

    The phrase “may or may not have made” reflects the fact that baby boomers simply don’t remember what they were doing back then. All the drugs fried their brains. And like the saying goes, if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.

  51. Thinking back on things, the most effective anti-drug use message I ever got was going to a party with a guy who immediately got so totally stoned he couldn’t talk, much less drive. There I was, in a room full of people I’d never met before, most of whom were in the process of killing what few brain cells they had. Nothing like trying to carry on a conversation with a stoner when you’re straight to turn anyone off the stuff forever.

    That, and the coke-head roomate who gave her dealer my phone number. That was fun.

  52. I want to know what kind of results came from Obama’s experiments. Its not fair to tell people you did some sort of research, and then not give any hint as to the results. Most people just use these sorts of drugs to get high.
    Right. He wore a lab coat and goggles, and lit his doobies with a Bunsen burner.

  53. Taylor, are you for goodness or badness? /snark

  54. It would never occur to them that the proper response is to modify the message rather than mold reality to fit it.

    What politician has even a speaking acquaintance with “reality?”

    If I were you, I wouldn’t tell your kids that you smoked pot unless you want ’em to smoke pot.

    If I were you I wouldn’t lie to your kids unless you want ’em to tell lies.

    “I think the baby boomer parent ought to say, ‘I’ve learned from mistakes I may or may not have made’

    “Son, what did you and Suzy do last night?” “Well, we may or may not?”

    Yeah, that’s a good plan.

    Therefore, the lesson here is to prevent your kids from using drugs so that they’ll support repeal of the drug laws when they’re old enough to vote.

    Of course there’s a difference between freely choosing to abstain and being coerced, but it’s not one either Ds or Rs understand.

    Out of at least three generations of teetotalers, my youngest daughter became a bartender.

    “So what if I am using drugs? He (Obama) did it too!”

    And he ended up being a politician. And yes, [sigh], I remember when “you could grow up to be President” wasn’t a threat.

    Thinking back on things, the most effective anti-drug use message I ever got was going to a party with a guy who immediately got so totally stoned he couldn’t talk, much less drive.

    With me it was in college cleaning up puke while trying to keep dorm buddies from drowning in the showers. And having to tell them how much fun they had the night before, while they nursed hangovers.

  55. The presidential candidate who says “Yes, I admit it, when I was young, I went out every weekend with my friends, got totally hammered, had a lot of laughs, got laid, slept it off and walked around with a shit-eating grin on my face for days afterward. Hey, anybody out there got any weed?” is the presidential candidate for whom I bother to leave my apartment on election day to vote.

  56. DJ Voton,

    If a Presidential candidate “experimented with drugs” in the past, fine – I applaud his or her contributions to science, so long as he or she doesn’t seek to imprison modern experimenters.

    But a candidate who says he’s *still* toking up? I’m not sure about that.

    What would our various Presidents have sounded like on drugs?

    Thomas Jefferson: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that He s sitting right in front of me and staaaring at me with his 200 purple eyes.”

    Washington: “In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. Or should I say finest *crops.* Wow . . .”

    Lincoln: “With malice toward none, because there’s enough weed for all . . .” OK, we might have been better off if Lincoln had been a little mellower.

    Bill Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.”

  57. it undermines the government’s message that even the most casual contact with these evil substances will ruin your life.

    If art is the powerful shaper of people’s worldview that it is held up to be, then two films should be part of every family’s viewing.

    All parents should watch “Kids” before their children turn 12.

    All children should watch “Requiem for a Dream” before they turn 14.

    I have seen drugs ruin a lot of people’s lives, so that potential deserves a fair amount of respect. Respect of the risk is what leads to responsible behavior with drugs.

    Moderation in all things is a wise message that can be enhanced by exploring its opposite. That exploration can be second-hand.

    Humans learn from second-hand experience quite well.

  58. Gov. Schwarzenegger (sp?) has been pretty open and un-remorseful about his pot usage, no?

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